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Monday, July 31, 2023

What's behind your new Charlestown property tax bill?

Higher assessments and lower tax rate and other important tax issues 

By Will Collette

A Connecticut couple bought this Charlestown property in
May of last year for $9,500,000. It is
currently assessed at $9,187,800
Like other Charlestown homeowners, I just received our new property tax bill containing an anticipated modest hike that covers increased town expenses.

That bill comes due tomorrow, August 1.

This year’s town budget passed with almost no drama, unlike previous years where voters had to contend with financial improprieties (e.g., the $2 million “oopsie”), audit flags for budget mismanagement, shady land deals and false claims from the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) that the only thing that matters is the town’s low tax rate.

This year, the tax rate plummeted largely due to mega-million real estate buys by rich people from out of state that pushed up nearly everyone’s property assessments. Yes, homes went up in valuation, though that hardly translates into money in your pocket though it does mean added tax costs out of your pocket.

$1,000,000+ purchases in Charlestown since the first of the year

Rhode Island IS one of the states but municipalities
have to apply. Providence does. So does Newport. And
Narragansett, North and South Kingstown.
But NOT Charlestown, thanks to the CCA.
This phenomenon of rising home assessments, not to mention higher infrastructure costs, caused by non-resident homeowners, is common along the shoreline. 

It has led many of our neighbors (e.g. South Kingstown, Narragansett, North Kingstown and even Newport) to institute “Homestead” tax breaks to compensate full-time residents for this cost.

Not Charlestown, though – the CCA bitterly opposed a proposal from town Democrats for a Homestead Tax Credit. I think it’s an idea that should be revisited.

Central Quonnie's 4+ acre tennis club, assessed at $130,100
Other than Charlestown’s two fake fire districts – Central Quonochontaug and Shady Harbor, who pay little or no tax on the tens of millions of dollars of real estate they own – the rest of us received assessment revaluations averaging around 50%.

Neither “fire district” actually fights fires. They use their property like a homeowners’ association with private beaches, water systems, recreational facilities including a tennis club and more. If they paid tax on their properties at fair market value, it would further reduce everyone’s taxes. But under this outrageous system, it’s the taxpayers who are subsidizing these fake fire districts.

I have a proposal: strip fire districts that have no capacity to fight fires of their tax-favored status. Make them pay like the rest of us. 

Use the new revenue to address Charlestown’s chronic shortage of volunteer firefighters by offering a generous annual tax break. There may even be enough money gained to jumpstart a Homestead tax credit.

I know some families have more than one firefighter in the household. No problem. Let the family accumulate the credits. Under our existing tax policies, veterans are allowed to accumulate more than one tax credit, and no one seems to have a problem with that. If a firefighter doesn’t own a home, let the credit be applied to car tax, or be rebated directly.

So, now back to property values and finances….

The assessment of our North of One house and land increased by 65%. But, despite that huge jump in assessment, our total tax went up by only $793 due to the new tax rate. 

You can run the numbers for your own property using Tax Assessor Ken Swain’s handy new data page HERE. Ken and his staff did a great job of presenting the new tax data in a user-friendly way.

In keeping with its obligation to present a balanced budget, the big rise in the total value of taxable property was largely offset by dropping the tax rate from $8.17 per $1000 last year to $5.74 this year, almost 30%.

To get to this point, Charlestown had to go through a painful audit with a new firm, Marcum LLP. They replaced our old auditors who resigned rather than be fired after large scale financial mismanagement came to light. The Marcum LLP audit spotlighted significant defects in the way the CCA-run town government managed our money.

After that audit, Marcum LLP tried to pile on an outrageous extra charge of $55,992 even though they knew going in that the audit was going to be complicated by the mess left behind by the old CCA Town Council majority and ex-Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz.

The new Town Council majority (CRU) refused to pay and negotiated the bill down to a fraction of what it was ($18,000) and then fired Marcum LLP.

Shortly after that, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission released a statement noting that Marcum LLP had committed “systemic quality control failures” and agreed to pay a $10 million fine. From the SEC’s June 21, 2023 news release:

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged audit firm Marcum LLP with systemic quality control failures and violations of audit standards in connection with audit work for hundreds of special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) clients beginning at the latest in 2020. The SEC’s order also found that Marcum’s deficiencies were not limited to SPAC clients, but they reflected systemic quality control failures throughout the firm. Marcum agreed to pay a $10 million penalty to settle the charges.

I am not privy to Charlestown’s internal legal strategy, but I would hope they are considering moves to recover the $18,000 we paid Marcum to settle their $55,992 bill for extra work.

Based on Charlestown’s bad experience with Marcum LLP plus the SEC charges, the Chariho School Committee voted 11-0 to terminate their contract with James Wilkinson of Marcum LLP.

There was one abstention: CCA-sponsored School Committee member Donna Chambers who has yet to publicly explain why she abstained on such a no-brainer.

Maybe she had not received her instructions on how to vote from the CCA Steering Committee (or forgot what they were).

A deeper dive into taxes and property values

Real estate data firm Stacker currently rates Charlestown as the 12th most expensive area in the metro area with a “typical” home value of $604,442. Over the past five years, home prices in Charlestown grew by 54.8%, up $213,959.

A couple months ago, the Providence Journal published an article listing the top 30 taxpayers in Charlestown. Spoiler alert: neither the Quonnie or Shelter Harbor fake fire districts made the list.

All but one are multi-million dollar seaside estates.

Here’s is the Journal’s list of top Charlestown taxpayers:

1. Joseph N. Walsh III & Barbara Walsh, 21 Dowd Drive — $55,540. Besides its seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, this estate has a separate one-bedroom, 1,600 house on its 2.78 acres. The property was assessed at $6.8 million.

2. 264 East Beach Holdings, 264 East Beach Rd. — $47,644. This seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom house has an inground pool on 4.57 acres. The property was assessed at $5.8 million.

3. H. David & Tracy L. Overbeeke, 648A West Beach Rd. — $41,671. This four-bedroom, three-bathroom house has an 816-square-foot detached garage on 2.12 acres. The property was assessed at $5.1 million.

4. Dowd Drive Realty Trust, 27 Dowd Drive — $37,656. This three-bedroom, two-bathroom house sits on 0.72 acres. The property was assessed at $4.9 million.

5. Stephen H. Long Revocable Trust, 38 Ninigret Ave. — $35,664. This four-bedroom, four-bathroom house sits on 0.89 acres. The property was assessed at $4.4 million.

6. Dolores Cusson Qualified Personal Trust, 93 Surfside Ave. — $34,746.

7. Brooke N. Muggia Revocable Trust, 75 Surfside Ave. — $32,361. 85

8. Surfside Avenue LLC, 85 Surfside Ave. — $31,879.

9. Kelly Hickey Crawford Revocable Trust, 165 Surfside Ave. — $31,060.10.

10. Gregory B. Howey Surfside Qualified Personal Trust, 109 Surfside Ave. — $30,956.11.

11. Joan B. Gurney Life Use, 25 Dowd Drive — $30,728.12.

12. Timothy A. & Beverly C. Holt, 175 Surfside Ave. — $30,590.13.

13. Sean H. Reynolds, 159 Surfside Ave. — $30,433.14.

14. Jeffrey W. & Kathryne A. Gardner, 89B South Arnolda Rd. — $30,262.15.

15. 2016 Rhode Island Trust, 179 Surfside Ave. — $30,181.16.

16. Denis G. & Nancy A. Gagnon, 3 Wells Lane — $29,033.17.

17. Charles A. Glew, 5790B Post Rd. — $28,602.18.

18. Thomas C. Uger, 75 Ocean View Ave. — $28,062.19.

19. 101 Surfside LLC, 101 Surfside Ave. — $27,880.20.

20. Laura A. More Revocable Trust, 34 Ninigret Ave. — $27,83421.

21. Alexander S. Ehrlich Revocable Trust, 187 Warren Rd. — $27,616.22.

22. Robert K Miller III Revocable Living Trust, 182 Surfside Ave. — $27,365.23.

23. Keith W. & Catherine A. Swaby, 137 Southern Way — $27,118.24.

24. Roberta Peet, 57 Surfside Ave. — $26,854.25.

25. Brian J. & Tiffany S. Van Elsander, 89 Surfside Ave. — $26,588.26.

26. DLM Ninigret Cove Trust, 209 Cove Point West — $26,491.27.

27. Kimberly G.F. & Robert P. Anderson, 335 West Beach Rd. — $26,427.28.

28. Martha G. Kellogg Personal Residence Trust, 153 Surfside Ave. — $26,378.29.

29. James P. & Lisa M. McConnell, 359 West Beach Rd. — $25,974.30.

30. ChurchWoods LLC, 4110 Old Post Rd. — $25,936

ChurchWoods. Their assessment is thirty times higher than
Quonnie's tennis club. Both properties are just above 4 acres
I cannot fathom how ChurchWoods got on the list. They are a small, affordable housing complex for low to moderate income senior citizens. 

It was built on land from the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. Their assessed value for Charlestown tax purposes is $3,964,200. Compare that to Central Quonnie's  tennis club (see above) appraised at only $130,100.

That they should be on the list and not the Central Quonnie or Shady Harbor (fake) Fire Districts is disgusting.

I don’t mind paying taxes, but I am outraged at unfair taxation. I’ve written about numerous instances of CCA-driven tax inequities. The CCA leadership knew about them, but over their decade of power over Charlestown’s affairs, they not only did nothing but made the inequities worse. I suggest this is a subject our new town leadership should examine closely and then take action.

Master fact-finders




And this is a good thing?

Scientists discover a way to manipulate the Brain’s perception of time


Scientists artificially slowed down, or sped up, patterns
of neural activity in rats, warping their judgment of time duration.
Credit: Created by Hedi Young with the assistance of Stable Diffusion
Champalimaud Research’s Learning Lab has provided significant evidence of how the brain’s internal clockwork guides behavior. 

Their study manipulated neural activity patterns in rats, warping their perception of time duration. This research not only challenges conventional understanding of time measurement but also has potential therapeutic implications for diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, and for robotics and learning algorithms.

From Aristotle’s musings on the nature of time to Einstein’s theory of relativity, humanity has long pondered: how do we perceive and understand time? The theory of relativity posits that time can stretch and contract, a phenomenon known as time dilation. 

Just as the cosmos warps time, our neural circuits can stretch and compress our subjective experience of time. As Einstein famously quipped, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.”

In new work from Champalimaud Research’s Learning Lab published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists artificially slowed down, or sped up, patterns of neural activity in rats, warping their judgment of time duration and providing the most compelling causal evidence so far for how the brain’s inner clockwork guides behavior.

In contrast to the more familiar circadian clocks that govern our 24-hour biological rhythms and shape our daily lives, from sleep-wake cycles to metabolism, much less is known about how the body measures time on the scale of seconds to minutes. 

The study focused precisely on this seconds-to-minutes timescale at which much of our behavior unfolds, whether you’re waiting at a stop light or serving a tennis ball.

Elevating Performance

Colorful Foods Improve Athletes’ Vision

University of Georgia 

Nutrition is an important part of any top athlete’s training program. And now, a new study by researchers from the University of Georgia proposes that supplementing the diet of athletes with colorful fruits and vegetables could improve their visual range.

The paper, which was published in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, examines how a group of plant compounds that build up in the retina, known as macular pigments, work to improve eye health and functional vision.

Previous studies done by UGA researchers Billy R. Hammond and Lisa Renzi-Hammond have shown that eating foods like dark leafy greens or yellow and orange vegetables, which contain high levels of the plant compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, improves eye and brain health.

Eliminating bias in AI may be impossible

A computer scientist explains how to tame it instead

Emilio Ferrara, University of Southern California

ChatGPT exchange in which user asks for a joke about Sicilians, with response 'Why did the Sicilian chef bring extra garlic to the restaurant? Because he heard the customers wanted some 'Sicilian stink-ilyan' flavor in their meals!'
ChatGPT can sometimes produce stereotypical or offensive
 outputs. Screen capture by Emilio FerraraCC BY-ND
When I asked ChatGPT for a joke about Sicilians the other day, it implied that Sicilians are stinky.

As somebody born and raised in Sicily, I reacted to ChatGPT’s joke with disgust. But at the same time, my computer scientist brain began spinning around a seemingly simple question: Should ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence systems be allowed to be biased?

You might say “Of course not!” And that would be a reasonable response. But there are some researchers, like me, who argue the opposite: AI systems like ChatGPT should indeed be biased – but not in the way you might think.

Removing bias from AI is a laudable goal, but blindly eliminating biases can have unintended consequences. Instead, bias in AI can be controlled to achieve a higher goal: fairness.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Should Charlestown go after more open space money?

Sure, but honestly and sensibly 

By Will Collette

Charlestown already has LOTS of open space
On Tuesday, DEM is opening a new application round for open space 50% matching grants of up to $400,000. A total of $3 million is available in this cycle.

During the long reign of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) over our town, these grants were highly prized by Planning Commissar Ruth Platner who saw them as an opportunity for sweetheart deals with CCA supporters plus a chance to advance her exclusionary zoning policy. 

Shudder to think that land might become available to house families with children or, worse, “people from Providence.”

Though Platner still holds her perch of power as Planning Commission chair and de facto CCA commander, the new Town Council majority, comprised of candidates who were endorsed by Charlestown Citizens United (CRU) doesn’t share her view of open space über alles.

That’s not to say they don’t value open space. In fact, the Council voted on July 10 to pursue the acquisition of a property at the corner of South County Trail and New Biscuit City Road to provide added public access to the Pawcatuck River.

This property could well be the subject of an open space grant application provided the groundwork laid out at the Council meeting can be accomplished before the October 27 application deadline.

Even Ruth Platner should applaud this project since it’s very close to the land where she and her husband ex-Zoning Board member Cliff Vanover share a home.

I think there is broad consensus in Charlestown that open space is a good thing. I certainly feel that way, contrary to what the CCA might say. But there is no consensus for unlimited, blind pursuit by Ruth Platner or anyone else to buy more open space with taxpayer dollars. More than 60% of Charlestown land (see map, above left) is already protected so new acquisitions should be strategic and a good value.

For a prime example of how NOT to pursue an open space buy, look no further than “SPAgate,” a shady deal if ever there was one. Platner directed her minion, town planner Jane Weidman to submit a grant application for open space cash to buy an unwanted property from CCA client group, the Sachem Passage Association, using a grossly overpriced appraisal.

Fortunately, after it initially awarded the grant, DEM insisted an independent appraisal be conducted. That appraisal came in at a fraction of what the SPA wanted – and what Platner was willing to pay – and the deal died.

If the Council decides to pursue an application, I am confident they will not repeat the CCA’s past practices of using public open space money as a political tool.

I have pulled extracts from DEM’s news release on the grant program containing the application details:

$3 million in matching grants are available to help communities and local organizations protect valuable open space throughout Rhode Island through DEM’s Local Open Space Grant Program. The grant round officially opens Aug 1, 2023, with a submission deadline of Oct 27, 2023. Funding is leveraged through the Rhode Island voter-approved 2022 and 2018 Green Bonds.

As part of this grant round, awards up to $400,000 – which may cover up to half of the project cost – will help preserve lands that offer significant natural, ecological or agricultural value by direct purchase or conservation easement. Projects that connect or expand existing protected lands will be prioritized. And climate change-related impacts of a project will be considered. In addition to these grants, funding is available to cover some costs associated with appraisal, title, and survey services. Restrictions apply, and applicants are encouraged to review the grant guidelines available at

Electronic applications are encouraged and should be forwarded to the DEM’s Division of Planning & Development at by 4 PM on Friday, Oct 27. Proposals and supporting materials may also be mailed to the attention of DEM, Division of Planning & Development, 235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908. Municipalities, land trusts, and nonprofit land conservation organizations are eligible to apply. Applications will be reviewed and ranked by the Natural Heritage Preservation Advisory Committee, with final awards to be made by the State Natural Heritage Preservation Commission.

Places used by residents and tourists alike for outdoor recreation, including iconic properties such as Weetamoo Woods and Pardon Gray in Tiverton, Mount Hope Farm in Bristol, Third Beach in Middletown, and Mercy Woods in Cumberland, all have been protected through this program. These natural assets play a big role in the state’s tourism economy by providing opportunities for the public to camp, fish, hunt, hike, and enjoy the great outdoors – all while generating revenue for the local economy.

DEM’s Green Space programs – which include Local Open Space, Outdoor Recreation, and Recreational Trail grants – fund land conservation, recreational land acquisition and development, and recreational trail development and improvement statewide.

The Local Open Space Grant Program is administered by the state’s Natural Heritage Preservation Commission and provides funding assistance to local communities for the protection of important open space and public recreation lands. Nearly every town in the state has received funding through the program over the course of the 200 grants administered since 1990, furthering the mission of preserving Rhode Island’s precious resources and increasing the public’s access and enjoyment of our natural lands.

Trump lawsuit against CNN over network use of term "Big Lie" thrown out of court


Stand up!


Your Phone Habits Could Be Putting Your Heart at Risk

An Unexpected Pathway to Hypertension 


New research reveals a correlation between the duration of mobile phone usage for calls and increased risk of high blood pressure. 

The study, which used data from over 200,000 adults, indicated a 12% higher risk of hypertension in individuals who talked on their phones for 30 minutes or more per week compared to those who used less.

According to a study recently published in the European Heart Journal – Digital Health, spending over 30 minutes per week on mobile phone conversations can lead to a 12% higher risk of developing high blood pressure, compared to spending less than 30 minutes.

VIDEO: International Space Station will make a 5 minute pass over Charlestown tonight

Forecast is for mostly clear sky
By Will Collette

See this directly on YouTube at

The International Space Station will make a 6-minute encore pass over Charlestown tonight starting at 9:02. Now that the muggy weather has broken, the National Weather Service forecasts (click hereskies will be mostly clear. 

The International Space Station (ISS) has long been a symbol of the US and Russia as well as astronauts from around the world to work together in peace. They observe the earth, do scientific experiments and live in harmony, more or less, for months at a time.

During the early months of Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine, the head of the Russian space agency saber-rattled threats of stranding US astronauts, detaching Russian modules, blocking supplies and even crashing the ISS into a major city of some unfriendly country that dissed Vladimir Putin. 

But that guy hasn't been heard from in a while. Maybe he had an accident with an open window.

Nonetheless, at 9:02 PM tonight, the ISS will appear at only 10 degrees above the west-northwest horizon and head southeast, reaching a maximum of 53 degrees above. It will then continue its 6-minute path, its trajectory slowly lowering until it reaches 16 degrees over the southeast horizon. Then it will simply disappear. 

You can check the schedule yourself by CLICKING HERE.

Here is the notice I received from NASA: 
Time: Sun Jul 30 9:02 PM, Visible: 6 min, Max Height: 53°, Appears: 10° above WNW, Disappears: 16° above SE
The station can rival Mars or Jupiter in brightness.

Combined with its eerie silent, swift passage, the ISS makes for great sky viewing.

Again, you can check out the timetable for station overflights by clicking here for each day's overflight of our area. 

You have the option to sign up for e-mail alerts that give you at least 12 hours' advance warning of overflights.

Search engines and social media can forecast disease outbreaks

Researchers found association between prevalence of COVID and search queries, posts

University of Waterloo

Internet search engine queries and social media data can be early warning signals, creating a real-time surveillance system for disease forecasting, says a recent University of Waterloo study.

Using the example of COVID-19, researchers found there was an association between the disease’s prevalence and search engine queries and social media posts.

“The general public tends to use internet searches and social media for health information, and especially so during global epidemics,” said Dr. Yang (Rena) Yang, a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Public Health Sciences at Waterloo. 

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Tax the Fat Cat Private Jet Class

Invest in Green Transit

CHUCK COLLINS for Common Dreams

Democratic Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey has just introduced legislation to significantly boost excise taxes on private jet fuel. Democratic New York Representative Nydia Velasquez has introduced complimentary legislation in the House.

The colorfully named “FATCAT Act” (standing for Fueling Alternative Transportation with a Carbon Aviation Tax), would hike fuel taxes on private jets from the current 22 cents a gallon to $1.95 per gallon. This would effectively increase the cost to $200 per metric ton of private jet CO2 emissions.

The legislation was in part inspired by a report released by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Patriotic Millionaires, High Flyers 2023: How Ultra-Rich Private Jet Travel Costs the Rest of Us and Burns Up the Planet.

The report found that private jets emit at least 10 to 20 times more pollutants than commercial planes per passenger. The wealthiest 1% of air travelers are responsible for about half of all aviation carbon emissions.

Private jets do not pay their fair share of the costs of operating the air control system. Private jets make up approximately one out of every six flights handled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) but contribute just 2% of the taxes that make up the trust fund that primarily funds the FAA.

Why not, indeed


Tips for driving in the rain


Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse says climate change hurting U.S. economy

We pay now or pay later, but we will pay

By Jacob Fischler, Rhode Island Current

The changing climate is hurting infrastructure and the national economy, members of a U.S. Senate panel and experts said Wednesday.

Members of both parties on the U.S. Senate Budget Committee agreed at a Wednesday hearing on the need for more resilient infrastructure that could withstand the pressures of a changing climate. 

They also agreed speeding up the process for gaining federal approval for large infrastructure and energy projects would be helpful.

Democrats voiced support for taking steps to reduce carbon emissions, while Republicans mostly ignored that issue or said it would be a waste. Among those testifying was Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, who said his state is particularly vulnerable to climate change and contributes more carbon emissions than most states.

U.S. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse cited several examples from across the country of extreme weather damaging infrastructure.

Excessive heat has led to roads buckling in Oregon, Texas and Utah, he said. Utilities have preemptively shut off power lines to avoid wildfires in the West. Drought in the Midwest brought water levels so low that river barges got stuck.

Those examples and others hurt economic activity, Whitehouse said.

Billions of nanoplastics released when microwaving baby food containers

Exposure to plastic particles kills up to 75% of cultured kidney cells

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The fastest way to heat food and drink might also rank as the fastest route to ingesting massive quantities of minuscule plastic particles, says new research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Experiments have shown that microwaving plastic baby food containers available on the shelves of U.S. stores can release huge numbers of plastic particles -- in some cases, more than 2 billion nanoplastics and 4 million microplastics for every square centimeter of container.

Though the health effects of consuming micro- and nanoplastics remain unclear, the Nebraska team further found that three-quarters of cultured embryonic kidney cells had died after two days of being introduced to those same particles. A 2022 report from the World Health Organization recommended limiting exposure to such particles.

First contact with aliens could end in colonization and genocide if we don’t learn from history

We don't have a good history of "first contacts" with new civilizations

David Delgado Shorter, University of California, Los Angeles; Kim TallBear, University of Alberta, and William Lempert, Bowdoin College

We’re only halfway through 2023, and it feels already like the year of alien contact.

In February, President Joe Biden gave orders to shoot down three unidentified aerial phenomena – NASA’s title for UFOs. Then, the alleged leaked footage from a Navy pilot of a UFO, and then news of a whistleblower’s report on a possible U.S. government cover-up about UFO research. Most recently, an independent analysis published in June suggests that UFOs might have been collected by a clandestine agency of the U.S. government.

If any actual evidence of extraterrestrial life emerges, whether from whistleblower testimony or an admission of a cover-up, humans would face a historic paradigm shift.

As members of an Indigenous studies working group who were asked to lend our disciplinary expertise to a workshop affiliated with the Berkeley SETI Research Center, we have studied centuries of culture contacts and their outcomes from around the globe. Our collaborative preparations for the workshop drew from transdisciplinary research in Australia, New Zealand, Africa and across the Americas.

In its final form, our group statement illustrated the need for diverse perspectives on the ethics of listening for alien life and a broadening of what defines “intelligence” and “life.” Based on our findings, we consider first contact less as an event and more as a long process that has already begun.

Friday, July 28, 2023

“If history tells us anything, it’s that we never learn from history.”

Learning From History, If We Dare

By Gary M. Feinman, originally published by

This article was produced by Human Bridges, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The New Gilded Age, wars along the Russian border, a global pandemic, battles for women’s rights, even the Titanic: history does rhyme with the present. Yet as former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert once observed:

“If history tells us anything, it’s that we never learn from history.”

That’s something we can realistically change. And if we do, we’ll have an easier time addressing the macro and multiple challenges humanity faces, and finding the pathways to necessary compromises and alliances with people across all borders.

But our blinders and misconceptions about the past constrain the knowledge that we have to plan for a better future. Societies don’t get much out of living memory because the longer-term ramifications from recent decisions generally remain unsettled, and most of the big problems we face are the cumulative products of decades or centuries of the wrong approach to humanity’s histories and transitions.

To leverage and learn from humanity’s history regarding what fostered sustainability in the past, we need to know the outcomes.

The good news is that through concerted research in history and archaeology, we now know a great deal more about the different paths that people have taken and their outcomes than we did just fifty years back. 

Long-term perspectives on cities, states, and empires are now much fuller and more regionally diverse than was known decades ago. Synthetic, comparative analyses have been undertaken. We now know what worked and what did not.

Life in GOPland


Coming to Charlestown next week


Hidden Epidemic

 One in Five Adults May Suffer From Dangerous Snoring


Science shows one in five French guys snore
Approximately 20% of French adults may have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), but only a fraction are diagnosed and treated, according to a study. 

The research also found that OSA is more prevalent in certain demographics, including men and older individuals, with women often undiagnosed.

According to a recent study published in the ERJ Open Research, it’s estimated that as many as one in five individuals could be grappling with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

Those afflicted with OSA frequently experience symptoms such as loud snoring, interruptions in breathing throughout the night, and recurring awakenings. Beyond causing fatigue, OSA may also heighten the risk of serious health issues, including hypertension, stroke, heart diseases, and type 2 diabetes.

Treatments and lifestyle changes can help people with OSA. However, the new study also suggests that only a small proportion of people with symptoms of OSA have been diagnosed and are receiving help for the condition.

The study included data on 20,151 French adults. Researchers recorded how many participants had been diagnosed with OSA. They also used a questionnaire to gauge how many participants might have undiagnosed OSA. The questionnaire focuses on heavy snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness (the two most common OSA symptoms), high blood pressure, and obesity.

Today's health warnings and suggestions: heat, bad air and rip currents


International Space Station flies over Charlestown tonite at 9:52

ISS will make 6-minute-long journey across C-Town sky tonight
By Will Collette

CRS-20 - Final Dragon 1 arrives at the ISS -

The International Space Station (ISS) has been making a number of overflights of Charlestown over the past couple of weeks, but I only report on those where both the duration of the flight and the weather mesh. No point in reporting an event you are not likely to see.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for clear skies, so chances are good for a viewing of the International Space Station as it flies over Charlestown at 9:02 tonight. They are forecasting thunderstorms for later in the night.

It will be a six-minute run, just shy of the maximum amount of time it takes for the ISS to go from one end of the horizon to the other.

The space station will appear as if out of nowhere at 9:02 PM sharp in the northwest at 10 degrees over the horizon.

Time: Fri Jul 28 9:02 PM, Visible: 6 min, Max Height: 55°, Appears: 10° above NW, Disappears: 14° above ESE 

It will rise to 55 degrees and track to the east southeast where it will disappear at a low 14 degrees above the horizon as it loses the sun's reflected light.

Feds launch probe of artificial intelligence

Consumer protection is the opening salvo of US AI regulation

Anjana SusarlaMichigan State University

The FTC probe of ChatGPT maker OpenAI aligns with
concerns that members of Congress have expressed.
 AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
The Federal Trade Commission has launched an investigation of ChatGPT maker OpenAI for potential violations of consumer protection laws. The FTC sent the company a 20-page demand for information in the week of July 10, 2023.

The move comes as European regulators have begun to take action, and Congress is working on legislation to regulate the artificial intelligence industry.

The FTC has asked OpenAI to provide details of all complaints the company has received from users regarding “false, misleading, disparaging, or harmful” statements put out by OpenAI, and whether OpenAI engaged in unfair or deceptive practices relating to risks of harm to consumers, including reputational harm. 

The agency has asked detailed questions about how OpenAI obtains its data, how it trains its models, the processes it uses for human feedback, risk assessment and mitigation, and its mechanisms for privacy protection.

As a researcher of social media and AI, I recognize the immensely transformative potential of generative AI models, but I believe that these systems pose risks. In particular, in the context of consumer protection, these models can produce errors, exhibit biases and violate personal data privacy.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Mega-mergers and the public interest

The Big and the Bad

by Philip Mattera, director of the Corporate Research Project for the Dirt Diggers Digest

Curb the growth of corporate Godzillas
Proposed new guidelines on merger enforcement just released by the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department are a welcome development. In many industries, takeovers have put U.S. consumers at the mercy of a small number of mega-corporations all too willing to use their market power aggressively.

DOJ and FTC have put forth 13 guidelines under which the agencies could block mergers that eliminate substantial competition, increase concentration, entrench or extend a dominant position and so forth. Mergers that substantially lessen competition for workers could also be targeted.

Along with the market benefits that would come from slowing consolidation (reduction in the number of firms in an industry) and concentration (increase in the share of business activity controlled by a small number of large firms), this new aggressive posture could also help to restrain the growth of corporate misconduct.

The reason is that as corporations grow larger and more dominant they seem to become more inclined to break the rules—not only the rules against price-fixing but also those concerning labor standards, environmental protection, transportation safety and much more. Evidence for this can be found in the data collected in Violation Tracker.

A prime example is the financial services sector. The country’s four largest banks—JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo—account for $180 billion in cumulative penalties since 2000. This is nearly half of the penalties paid by all of the 330 parent companies in this sector covered by Violation Tracker.

Penalty concentration is even greater in the petroleum industry, where the top five oil companies—Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips—are responsible for cumulative penalties of $42 billion. That is three-quarters of the $55 billion paid by all the companies in the sector.

Lock him up!


How Trumponomics works


Lots of issues of local interest under study

Legislative study commissions used to be where bills went to die. Not anymore.

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

One new study commission will try to figure out
where all the quahogs are going.
Ten years have passed since Rep. Jennifer Boylan crouched next to her son in his fourth-grade classroom, practicing what to do if someone with a gun ever entered the school.

But the memory from the lockdown drill lingers in the Barrington Democrat’s mind: The students huddled next to cubbies because they had no closet to hide inside. The stricken looks Boylan exchanged with the teacher, both thinking of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a few months prior. And the rattling of the door knob as police checked to make sure the door was closed.

“Everyone jumped about a mile,” Boylan recalled. 

How to improve school safety drills and active shooter sweeps — and reduce the trauma that students and teachers might suffer from them — is the focus of a newly created commission formed under legislation sponsored by Boylan. 

Also on the docket for lawmakers in the policymaking off-season: quahogs, miniature alcohol bottles, forest fires and Airbnbs, to name a few. Twelve legislative study commissions have or will soon kick off thanks to resolutions passed in the 2023 legislative session. That’s in addition to 10 created in prior years that have been extended into the upcoming year.

Study commissions were once considered a kind of political purgatory where controversial topics get shunted to sit in eternal limbo. Not anymore, thanks in part to a crop of legislative victories resulting from the work of these legislative panels.

“That this is where bills go to die is flatly wrong,” said Sen. Mark McKenney, a Warwick Democrat. “It has historically been the case, when there is not a clear critical mass behind a particular idea, it might get shunted to a study commission. But the reality is that these are issues that take more time to percolate or be considered in-depth.”

He should know.

McKenney was one of 12 people to wade into the controversial waters of public shoreline access through a study commission created in 2021. Its resulting recommendation on where to draw the line between public and private on the sand was the basis for successful legislation signed into law last month.

Advocates touted the work of the shoreline access commission, and its chairwoman, Rep. Terri Cortvriend, a Portsmouth Democrat, for turning the tide on a long-debated topic. And lawmakers now look for similar success to follow from panels studying equally controversial issues.