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Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Taxes in America Are Unfair to Most Americans

We must focus on tax inequality to bring about tax justice 

By Gerald E. Scorse, Progressive Charlestown guest columnist

(Tim Foley for the Center for Public Integrity)
For decades, time and again, America’s tax code has been twisted and tweaked to give tax breaks to the top and crumbs (or nothing) to the tens of millions on the bottom and in the middle. 

Levels of wealth and inequality have become so gross that experts are clamoring for change, painting unflattering portraits of the country those laws have created. 

In the latest example, Senators Manchin and Sinema joined Republicans to throw 5.1 million children into poverty. Of course nobody knew the exact number, but they knew exactly what would happen when they blocked the renewal of a more generous Child Tax Credit. 

Now let’s get to the inequities, along with some proposals for balancing the scales. 

The modern income tax  began in 1943, and from the start we’ve had “two income tax systems, separate and unequal. One burdens most people. The other makes the rich much richer.” The first is an information system for wage and salary workers; the second is an honor system for business owners and high-income professionals.

Workers have their taxes withheld and their incomes reported to the Internal Revenue Service by employers. The privileged self-report: the IRS gets their work income figures only from them. 

Ordinary workers have a near-perfect tax compliance record. Self-reporters underpay by the hundreds of billions, a level of tax evasion that law professors Joshua Blank and Ari Glogower believe could be (and should be) sharply reduced. They lay out their ideas in the Iowa Law Review’s just-published “The Tax Information Gap at the Top”. 

The Biden Administration wanted banks to report to the IRS all transactions of $10,000 or more. Instead, the authors suggest, focus on taxpayers with incomes and net worth above certain thresholds—say, $2 million and $10 million. 

The hand that feeds




Climate Change Is Boosting Plant Pollens and Human Seasonal Allergies

Lucy Goodchild van Hilten for the Wiki Observatory

When the season turns to spring, flowers begin to bloom, trees turn green, and the sun shines longer. But if you’re like almost one-third of adults in the U.S., you might be experiencing watery eyes, a tickly throat, and a runny nose. With spring comes pollen, which makes breathing air more difficult.

But it’s getting worse: With climate change shifting weather patterns and causing an early, more extended pollen high, we could all be sneezing more than usual. According to Dr. Kathleen May, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, exposure to pollen repeatedly for extended periods may cause symptoms in people not previously prone to allergies.

In Pursuit of breast cancer cure

The antibody that could revolutionize breast cancer treatment


A synthetic antibody called RD-43, developed by graduate
student Zhe Qian in collaboration with CSHL’s Antibody
& Phage Display Shared Resource, may help stop the
spread of breast cancer by degrading the PTPRD enzyme.
[Tonks lab/Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory]

An enzyme that may help some breast cancers spread can be stopped with an antibody created in the lab of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Professor Nicholas Tonks. 

With further development, the antibody might offer an effective drug treatment for those same breast cancers.

Are ghosts real?

Let's examine the evidence

Barry MarkovskyUniversity of South Carolina

Remember the old saying: Extraordinary claims require
extraordinary evidence. David Wall/Moment via Getty Images
Certainly, lots of people believe in ghosts – a spirit left behind after someone who was alive has died.

In a 2021 poll of 1,000 American adults, 41% said they believe in ghosts, and 20% said they had personally experienced them. If they’re right, that’s more than 50 million spirit encounters in the U.S. alone.

That includes the owner of a retail shop near my home who believes his place is haunted. When I asked what most convinced him of this, he sent me dozens of eerie security camera video clips. He also brought in ghost hunters who reinforced his suspicions.

Some of the videos show small orbs of light gliding around the room. In others, you can hear faint voices and loud bumping sounds when nobody’s there. Others show a book flying off a desk and products jumping off a shelf.

Many ghostly encounters are due to the way your brain interprets certain sights and sounds.

It’s not uncommon for me to hear stories like this. As a sociologist, some of my work looks at beliefs in things like ghosts, aliens, pyramid power and superstitions.

Along with others who practice scientific skepticism, I keep an open mind while maintaining that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Tell me you had a burger for lunch, and I’ll take your word for it. Tell me you shared your fries with Abraham Lincoln’s ghost, and I’ll want more evidence.

In the “spirit” of critical thinking, consider the following three questions:

Monday, October 30, 2023

Americans’ Approval of Unions Could Help Turn the Tide Against Inequality

Growing public support for the labor movement might help turn our problems around

Back in the early 20th century, earnest middle-class reformers out to overturn America’s plutocratic order gravitated to the pages of The Public, a weekly magazine whose editor, Louis Post, would become the U.S. assistant secretary of labor in 1913. 

One year later, the associate editor of The Public would offer a cutting critique of the legal system that so protected our nation’s plutocratic powers-that-be. That system, Stoughton Cooley of The Public avowed, rendered judgments “so far from justice and common sense” that average citizens believe “absolutely that the poor have no redress against the rich.”

“If the lawyers and judges do not reform the machinery of the law,” Cooley declared, “the people will.”

The people eventually did just that. By the end of the 1930s, amid the ferment of the New Deal era, the courts were no longer routinely striking down progressive legislation and squashing the rights of workers. The United States, over the next generation, would become a significantly more equal place.

How much more equal? In 1928, just before the Great Depression began, America’s richest 0.1% held nearly a quarter of the nation’s wealth. By mid-century, that top 0.1%’s share of U.S. wealth was hovering down close to 5%.

In other words, by the 1950s, Americans no longer lived in an economy—and a polity—tightly rigged to enrich the already rich at the expense of average working families. The outrage of early 20th-century egalitarians like Stoughton Cooley suddenly seemed an artifact from a no longer relevant plutocratic past.

But here today that work of Cooley and his fellow progressives of over a century ago resonates as more relevant than ever. The progress against plutocracy the vast majority of average Americans experienced in the mid-20th century has, to an unnerving extent, gone by the boards.

Two sober new reports from inside the Federal Reserve system detail just how deep our new inequality runs.

Happy Halloween!

Zachary Kanin


Batty facts


My favorite Halloween pumpkin


Settlement in the Auto Workers strike?

United Auto Workers union hails its tentative strike-ending deals with Ford and Stellantis

Raises top assembly-plant hourly pay to more than $40 as ‘record contracts’

Marick Masters, Wayne State University

UAW members, some holding their children aloft, attend a rally.
UAW members attended a rally in support of the labor union’s strike on Oct. 7, 2023, in Chicago. Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

The United Auto Workers union agreed on tentative new contracts with Ford Motor Co. on Oct. 25, 2023, and Stellantis, the global automaker that makes Chrysler, Dodge and Ram vehicles in North America, on Oct. 28. The tentative deals halted a six-week strike that remains in place for General Motors. The strike, the industry’s longest in 25 years, began on Sept. 15, when the UAW’s prior contracts with all three automakers expired.

Ford released a statement in which it said it was “pleased” to have reached a deal and “focused on restarting Kentucky Truck Plant, Michigan Assembly Plant and Chicago Assembly Plant.” Stellantis, likewise, looks forward to “resuming operations,” one of its executives said in a statement.

The Conversation asked Marick Masters, a Wayne State University scholar of labor and business issues, to explain what’s in these contracts and their significance.

Consumers need to think twice when buying cold and flu meds

FDA advisory panel’s conclusion that oral phenylephrine is ineffective means 

Reading ingredient labels closely will help consumers make
more informed decisions. ljubaphoto/E+ via Getty Images
The ramp-up to cold and flu season is a bad time for consumers to learn that some of their most trusted go-to products don’t actually work.

An advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded unanimously in September 2023 that phenylephrine – an active ingredient found in popular over-the-counter cough and cold products such as Sudafed PE, Theraflu and NyQuil Severe Cold and Flu – works no better than a placebo when taken orally. 

The 2023 FDA advisory panel met to review growing evidence that oral phenylephrine is an ineffective treatment for nasal congestion. The committee did not review the effectiveness of phenylephrine nasal spray.

In response, CVS, one of the largest pharmacy chains in America, announced that they will no longer sell products that contain oral phenylephrine as the only active ingredient in its community pharmacies.

To the millions of Americans who will suffer from colds with stuffy noses this fall and winter – many of whom have used products containing phenylephrine for years – the panel’s decision may be startling.

Consumers are likely wondering whether they should stop using over-the-counter products containing phenylephrine, whether the products will still be on the shelves this winter and what other options they might have. Consumers may also question whether combination cough, cold and flu products will still be safe and effective for use at home.

As the FDA considers the advisory committee’s conclusions, oral phenylephrine will still likely be sold at many pharmacies despite the fact that more effective nonprescription medications and nonmedication approaches to relieve congestion exist.

As pharmacists who are focused on patient care in local communities, we have some advice on what to do when you need relief from cold and flu symptoms.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Let's trash junk fees

Undisclosed, deceptive cost consumers billions

By Sarah Anderson 

My contact lenses are crazy expensive. So when I’m about to run out, I do some comparison shopping to get the best deal on an online order.

Like any normal consumer, I click first on the lowest price. When I did that recently, I got an offer for $135.98 for a three-month supply. Pricey, but tolerable.

I went through the tedium of entering my prescription, eye doctor’s name, credit card number, and address. And that’s when I finally got to the actual price: $262.41 — a whopping 93 percent more than the original offer.

Boy, did I feel like a sucker. And I’m guessing you can relate.

These kinds of undisclosed, surprise charges are a classic example of the “junk fees” that are now everywhere, deceiving consumers into paying more for banking and internet services, concerts and movies, rental cars and apartments, and more.

A Consumer Reports survey found that 85 percent of Americans have experienced such fees in the past two years. The cost of all this swindling? Tens of billions of dollars a year. Junk fees also make it hard for businesses that are honest and transparent about their costs to compete against the cheaters.

President Joe Biden is determined to put junk fees where they belong — in the trash.

Booo! Really.

For more cartoons by Tom Tomorrow, CLICK HERE

Happy MAGA-Halloween

What do YOU want to see for the future in Ninigret Park?

email header.GIF


Fellow Residents of Charlestown, 

The Ninigret Park Master Plan Update Sub-Committee is meeting regularly to discuss the future of Ninigret Park and produce an updated Master Plan. 

Hearing from a broad cross-section of residents about how Ninigret Park could be an important resource to the town is the most valuable part of this process. 

The sub-committee's next meeting will be on Monday, October 30, starting at 6 pm in the Town Hall Council Chambers. The agenda for the meeting can be seen here. The Community Feedback section of the agenda has the most time allocated. 

We hope you can attend. 

With thanks,

Tim Quillen, Chair

Charlestown Residents United


Charlestown Residents United

P.O. Box 412

Charlestown, RI 02813



Charlestown Residents United | PO Box 412, Charlestown, RI 02813

One payoff for smart eating

Women with a heart healthy diet in midlife are less likely to report cognitive decline later

NYU Langone Health / NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Women with diets during middle age designed to lower blood pressure were about 17 percent less likely to report memory loss and other signs of cognitive decline decades later, a new study finds.

Led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the new findings suggest that a mid-life lifestyle modification -- adoption of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet -- may improve cognitive function later in life for women, who make up more than two-thirds of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, the most prevalent form of dementia.

Scientists Race To Defuse a “Ticking” Public Health Time Bomb

Ticks more widespread, more bites and more diseases tied to tick bites



Over the past five decades, the U.S. has seen a dramatic rise in tick-borne diseases, prompting urgent calls for innovative solutions from scientists at Yale. 

Their review highlights the rapid spread of these diseases, attributable to factors like increased deer populations and forest regrowth, and the dominance of the deer tick in transmissions. 

Traditional vaccines have had limited success, leading researchers to explore new strategies targeting tick-feeding processes and alert mechanisms. The proposal includes expanding these tactics to wildlife, necessitating a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach similar to the Manhattan Project to effectively combat this public health threat.

The surge in diseases transmitted by ticks throughout numerous regions of the United States in the past fifty years poses a significant threat to public health, necessitating innovative solutions, caution a team of scientists from Yale. In a review article, they outline why the stakes are so high and describe some potential solutions.

Possible solutions include a new class of vaccines for humans, including vaccines being developed at Yale, and even for the animals that carry the ticks.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Robbing residents of trailer parks

Vulture capitalists make bad landlords

By Jim Hightower 

Democrat photo by Gray Baker
Over time, words with beautiful meanings occasionally get degraded into ugliness. “Gentle,” for example.

Originally meaning good natured and kindly, it was twisted into “gentry” in the Middle Ages by very un-gentle land barons seeking a patina of refinement. Then it became a pretentious verb — to “gentrify” — meaning to make something common appear upscale.

And now the word has devolved to “gentrification,” describing the greed of developers and speculators who oust middle-and-low-income families from their communities to create trendy enclaves for the rich.

The latest move by these profiteers is their meanest yet, targeting families with the most tenuous hold on affordable shelter: People living in mobile home parks. Some 20 million Americans — especially vulnerable senior citizens, veterans, the disabled, and immigrant workers — make their homes in these inexpensive parks.

Well, “inexpensive” until the vultures sweep in, including multi-billion-dollar Wall Street powerhouses like Blackstone Group, Apollo Global Management, and Carlyle Group that are buying up hundreds of trailer parks across the country.

No problem here

By Clay Bennett


Home of the brave and...

Let the community work it out

Throwback to early internet days could fix social media’s crisis of legitimacy

Ethan ZuckermanUMass Amherst and Chand Rajendra-NicolucciUMass Amherst

The documentary ‘The Cleaners’ shows some of the hidden costs of Big Tech’s customer service approach to content moderation.

In the 2018 documentary “The Cleaners,” a young man in Manila, Philippines, explains his work as a content moderator: “We see the pictures on the screen. You then go through the pictures and delete those that don’t meet the guidelines. The daily quota of pictures is 25,000.” As he speaks, his mouse clicks, deleting offending images while allowing others to remain online.

The man in Manila is one of thousands of content moderators hired as contractors by social media platforms – 10,000 at Google alone. Content moderation on an industrial scale like this is part of the everyday experience for users of social media. Occasionally a post someone makes is removed, or a post someone thinks is offensive is allowed to go viral.

Similarly, platforms add and remove features without input from the people who are most affected by those decisions. Whether you are outraged or unperturbed, most people don’t think much about the history of a system in which people in conference rooms in Silicon Valley and Manila determine your experiences online.

But why should a few companies – or a few billionaire owners – have the power to decide everything about online spaces that billions of people use? This unaccountable model of governance has led stakeholders of all stripes to criticize platforms’ decisions as arbitrary, corrupt or irresponsible

In the early, pre-web days of the social internet, decisions about the spaces people gathered in online were often made by members of the community. Our examination of the early history of online governance suggests that social media platforms could return – at least in part – to models of community governance in order to address their crisis of legitimacy.

Warning: This Popular Recreational Activity Can Cause Serious and Permanent Neurological Defects

Not a laughing matter


Nitrous oxide, often referred to as “laughing gas”, is a widely recognized recreational drug, especially among young individuals. Its popularity is driven by its affordability and easy online access. 

However, chronic use can lead to serious neurological issues stemming from a functional vitamin B12 deficiency. Key symptoms include damage to the spinal cord, nerve damage, and behavioral abnormalities. Medical professionals are advised to question patients about nitrous oxide use if they present symptoms suggestive of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as “laughing gas,” is not just a popular recreational drug, particularly among the youth, but also an anesthetic frequently utilized in pediatric and dental procedures. 

Due to its affordability and easy online accessibility, many are resorting to its use for a quick high. In the 2021 Global Drug Survey, 10% of all respondents, and 15% of Canadian respondents, indicated having used the drug in the previous year.

New Research Finds That Extroverts Are More Likely To Resist Vaccines

I think the scientific term for them is asshole (Editor)


A recent study on over 40,000 Canadians discovered that extroverts were more hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, contrary to initial expectations. 

The research revealed that while those with high levels of openness and agreeableness were more likely to get vaccinated, extroverts were 18% more likely to refuse. These findings can aid in tailoring future public health messages based on personality traits.

During the height of the pandemic, which personality types were more reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Extroverts — according to a new study on more than 40,000 Canadians.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Nihilism, Fascism, and the Failed United States Donald Trump Delivered

And the very worst may still be yet to come.

REBECCA GORDON in theTomDispatch

Sometimes the right wing in this country seems like a riddle wrapped in an enigma encased in a conundrum.

Do they want to strengthen the government in line with the once-fringe doctrine of the “unitary executive,” concentrating most official power in the hands of a president who would then rule more or less by fiat? That’s the fascist position.

Or would they prefer to destroy the government, to “starve the beast,” something anti-tax activist Grover Norquist used to call for decades ago? “I don’t want to abolish government,” he declared. “I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” That’s the anti-government nihilist position.

You might not think that those two goals could coexist comfortably within a single party. And of course, you’d be right if you were talking about an ordinary American political party. But the Republicans are no longer an ordinary party. 

In many respects, in fact, they have become the however-fractious sole property of one Donald J. Trump. That former and quite possibly (God forbid) future president has no trouble simultaneously advocating contradictory, not to mention devastating, ideas. 

That’s because, for him, ideas are an entirely fungible currency that he deploys primarily to maintain the attention and adulation of his — and it is increasingly his alone — GOP “base.” And precisely because Trump has so little invested in actual policy, the right wing believes he’s a weapon they can point and shoot in whatever direction they choose.

Search for intelligent life


Where do they get these people?

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter to deliver 2023 Taricani Lecture on First Amendment Rights

Caitlin Dickerson will explore the essential role of investigative journalism in the modern world

Kevin Stacey

Caitlin Dickerson

Caitlin Dickerson, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter and staff writer for The Atlantic, will deliver the University of Rhode Island’s 2023 Taricani Lecture on First Amendment Rights on Wednesday, Nov. 1. at 5 p.m.

Her lecture, titled “Digging for Truth,” will explore the role of investigative journalism in modern society and how deep research and unassailable evidence can serve as a valuable check against inequality. 

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in-person in the Swan Hall auditorium, 60 Upper College Road, and will be streamed live. Registration and livestream information can be found on the event’s website.

“In an era where misinformation and media distrust are so prevalent, the work of great investigative reporters like Caitlin Dickerson becomes even more important,” said Ammina Kothari, director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media, which co-sponsors the lecture series. 

Biodegradable plastics are NOT the solution

Biodegradable plastics still damaging to fish

University of Otago

Professor Indrawati Oey, of the Department of Food Science, and Dr Bridie Allan, of the Department of Marine Science, hold the biodegradable plastic used in the study and a photo of the mottled triplefin, the species analysed. Image credit: University of Otago

Biodegradable plastics may not be the solution to plastic pollution many hoped for, with a University of Otago study showing they are still harmful to fish.

Petroleum-derived microplastics are known to impact marine life, but little is known about the impact of biodegradable alternatives.

The study, published in Science of the Total Environment and funded by a University of Otago Research Grant, is the first to assess the impact petroleum-derived plastic and biodegradable plastic have on wild fish.

In contrast, those exposed to bioplastics only had their maximum escape speed negatively affected.

She says the research is significant as it demonstrates that both petroleum-derived plastics and biodegradable plastics can be damaging to marine fish, should they be exposed to them.

Glaringly obvious solution to US truck driver shortage

Why not just stop discriminating against women?

By Jim Hightower 

Seemingly intractable problems sometimes have an obvious solution standing right in front of them. Our nation’s dire shortage of long-haul truck drivers, for example.

Wrangling big rigs across the country is difficult and dangerous work, and the corporate giants that dominate the industry have long been wailing that they can’t find people willing to do the job.

Their lobbyists have even pleaded with regulators to lower the age requirement so they can hire teenagers to drive these 18-wheel behemoths! What could go wrong with that?

Is there no better solution than child labor? How about us, asks the non-profit group Real Women in Trucking?

A little known fact: Less than 5 percent of America’s long-haul drivers are women. And a lesser known fact: Thousands of women are eager to do the job, are fully qualified, and hold commercial licenses to drive the rigs. But they’re constantly rejected when they apply for openings at trucking companies.

This is because most of the industry imposes a discriminatory standard to reject qualified female applicants. The gimmick is an unwritten, unlawful corporate rule, mandating that female job candidates can only be trained by female driving instructors.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

RI and 40 other states sue Meta for knowingly hurting teens with Facebook and Instagram

Here are the harms researchers have documented

Christia Spears BrownUniversity of Kentucky

Instagram’s emphasis on filtered photos of 
bodies harms girls’ self-image.
 Thomas Barwick/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia filed lawsuits against Meta on Oct. 24, 2023, alleging that the company intentionally designed Facebook and Instagram with features that harm teens and young users.

Meta officials had internal research in March 2020 showing that Instagram – the social media platform most used by adolescents after TikTok – is harmful to teen girls’ body image and well-being. But the company swept those findings under the rug to continue conducting business as usual, according to a Sept. 14, 2021, Wall Street Journal report. The report was based on documents provided by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.

Meta’s record of pursuing profits regardless of documented harm has sparked comparisons to Big Tobacco, which knew in the 1950s that its products were carcinogenic but publicly denied it into the 21st century. Those of us who study social media use by teens didn’t need a suppressed internal research study to know that Instagram can harm teens. Plenty of peer-reviewed research papers show the same thing.

Understanding the impact of social media on teens is important because almost all teens go online daily. A Pew Research Center poll shows that 77% of teens report they use social media daily.

Teens are more likely to log on to Instagram than any other social media site except TikTok. It is a ubiquitous part of adolescent life. Yet studies consistently show that the more often teens use Instagram, the worse their overall well-being, self-esteem, life satisfaction, mood and body image. One study found that the more that college students used Instagram on any given day, the worse their mood and life satisfaction were that day.

Recycle! Stop food waste!


Mass Murderer gun of choice


Another aqua-NIMBY fight seems headed for court

Legal battle imminent after CRMC approves contested Point Judith Pond oyster farm

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

South Kingstown resident Andrew Van Hemelrijck has submitted an application to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council for a 1/2-acre oyster farm with an additional winter storage site in Point Judith Pond in Narragansett. (Google Earth and Canva illustration)

The embattled state coastal regulatory agency appears bound for yet another protracted legal battle over an oyster farm.

Mark Fay, an attorney representing a group of Narragansett property owners, indicated as much speaking to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) at its meeting on Tuesday.

“If this is granted tonight, the only other place I have to go is to Superior Court,” Fay said. 

Fay’s protests centered on lack of public notice to residents and business entities that own property on Narragansett’s Little Comfort Island, despite their proximity to a proposed half-acre oyster farm in Point Judith Pond. 

Red meat consumption associated with increased type 2 diabetes risk

Think beans not beef 

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Adam Sacks
People who eat just two servings of red meat per week may have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people who eat fewer servings, and the risk increases with greater consumption, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

They also found that replacing red meat with healthy plant-based protein sources, such as nuts and legumes, or modest amounts of dairy foods, was associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

The study was published on Thursday, October 19, in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.