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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Medical Providers Still Grappling With UnitedHealth Cyberattack

‘More Devastating Than Covid’

 

DALL-E Created Thumbnail
Two months after a cyberattack on a UnitedHealth Group subsidiary halted payments to some doctors, medical providers say they’re still grappling with the fallout, even though UnitedHealth told shareholders on Tuesday that business is largely back to normal.

“We are still desperately struggling,” said Emily Benson, a therapist in Edina, Minnesota, who runs her own practice, Beginnings & Beyond. “This was way more devastating than covid ever was.”

Change Healthcare, a business unit of the Minnesota-based insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, controls a digital network so vast it processes nearly 1 in 3 U.S. patient records each year. The network is a critical conduit for shuttling information between most of the nation’s insurance companies and medical providers, who submit claims through it to get paid for treating patients.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

We can't recycle our way out of our plastic mess

Reduce. Period.

By Daily Dose

This year’s Earth Day theme was Planet vs. Plastics, a problem we have been railing against since Alan Weisman first published his essay “Polymers Are Forever,” in 2007, where we first learned about the persistence of microplastics and their infiltration into the marine food chain.

“Plastic is still plastic. The material still remains a polymer. Polyethylene is not biodegraded in any practical time scale. There is no mechanism in the marine environment to biodegrade that long a molecule.” Even if photodegradable nets help marine mammals live, he concluded, their powdery residue remains in the sea, where the filter feeders will find it.

“Except for a small amount that’s been incinerated,” says Tony Andrady the oracle, “every bit of plastic manufactured in the world for the last fifty years or so still remains. It’s somewhere in the environment.”

The official Earth Day organization is “demanding a 60% reduction in the production of ALL plastics by 2040. Our theme, Planet vs. Plastics, calls to advocate for widespread awareness on the health risk of plastics, rapidly phase out all single use plastics, urgently push for a strong UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, and demand an end to fast fashion.”

What a nice boy!

Draw your own conclusions

Star Trek's Holodeck recreated using ChatGPT and video game assets

What could possibly go wrong?

University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science

Many of STNG's worst episodes centered around
holodeck malfunctions, such as "Fistful of Datas"
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise leverage the holodeck, an empty room capable of generating 3D environments, to prepare for missions and to entertain themselves, simulating everything from lush jungles to the London of Sherlock Holmes. Deeply immersive and fully interactive, holodeck-created environments are infinitely customizable, using nothing but language: the crew has only to ask the computer to generate an environment, and that space appears in the holodeck.

Today, virtual interactive environments are also used to train robots prior to real-world deployment in a process called "Sim2Real." However, virtual interactive environments have been in surprisingly short supply. 

Rhode Island public radio and TV merger is OK'd

Hopes high for stronger non-profit journalism

By Alexander Castro, Rhode Island Current

AG Peter Neronha's statement that the
merger offers "a community benefit"
Rhode Island PBS and The Public’s Radio’s will soon be one entity.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha announced the approval of the merger of the two public media organizations Tuesday after conducting a review to ensure compliance with state law.

Elizabeth Delude-Dix, chair of the board of directors of The Public’s Radio, thanked the attorney general’s office and said in a statement: “The Public’s Radio and Rhode Island PBS have long provided honest journalism, robust educational programming, and engaging and entertaining content to Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Our impact will be increased and our audience expanded as we take these next exciting steps forward.” 

Torey Malatia, CEO of The Public’s Radio, said via email: “I agree the new institution has great potential for community service.”

Now, a new jointly-made board will begin to work with staff from both broadcast stations to align their respective operations and administration, according to a press release from Rhode Island PBS. 

UAW wins big at Volkswagen in Tennessee – its first victory at a foreign-owned factory in the American South

The first of many wins?

Bob BusselUniversity of Oregon

Volkswagen workers celebrate in Chattanooga, Tenn.,
after their bid to join the UAW union prevailed.
 AP Photo/George Walker IV
A decisive majority of the Volkswagen workers employed at a factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee cast their ballots in favor of joining the United Auto Workers union, the German automaker announced on April 19, 2024.

Persuading any Southern autoworkers to join a union had long been one of the U.S. labor movement’s most enduring challenges, despite persistent efforts by the UAW to organize this workforce.

To be sure, the UAW already has members employed by Ford and General Motors at facilities in Kentucky, Texas, Missouri and Mississippi.

However, the union had previously tried and largely failed to organize workers at foreign-owned companies, including Volkswagen and Nissan, in Southern states – where about 30% of all U.S. automotive jobs are located. It was the UAW’s third election at the same factory since 2014. The prior two ended in narrow losses.

The victory follows the UAW’s most successful strike in a generation against Detroit’s Big Three automakers, through which it won higher pay and better benefits for its members in 2023.

Volkswagen said it will await certification of the results by the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency responsible for enforcing U.S. workers’ rights to organize. As long as neither side challenges the results within five business days, the NLRB will certify them – greenlighting the start of bargaining over a contract.

The union has already scheduled another election that will occur less than a month after the Volkswagen vote. More than 5,000 workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama, will have their say on whether to join the UAW in a vote that will run May 13-17, 2024.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

5 years after the Mueller report into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election on behalf of Trump

Mueller did a poor job of putting the facts about Russia's election interference before the public

Howard ManlyThe Conversation

In the long list of Donald Trump’s legal woes, the Mueller report – which was released in redacted form on April 18, 2019 – appears all but forgotten.

But the nearly two-year investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election dominated headlines – and revealed what has become Trump’s trademark denial of any wrongdoing. For Trump, the Russia investigation was the first “ridiculous hoax” and “witch hunt.”

Mueller didn’t help matters. “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the special counsel stated.

Trump Bible: illustrated version

I'm with Joe

Biden's new solar energy plan will bring $50 million to Rhode Island

On Earth Day, RI Delegation Delivers $49.3M for Cost-Saving Clean Energy Upgrades

In an effort to make clean energy upgrades accessible to more Rhode Islanders, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen Seth Magaziner and Gabe Amo announced that the state will receive $49.3 million in federal funding through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Solar for All Program.

The Biden Administration’s $7 billion announcement of clean energy funding comes on Earth Day 2024 and was made possible by the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (P.L. 117-169), which Democrats passed in 2022. 

The funding secured for Rhode Island Equitable Access to Solar Energy (EASE) programs will support the launch and expansion of a comprehensive suite of seven financial assistance programs and twelve project deployment technical assistance initiatives designed to equitably address financial barriers to solar adoption. 

These initiatives will facilitate broader, more equitable access to reliable solar power across Rhode Island’s most historically underserved communities. 

According to Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER), these funds will help serve thousands of households in the Ocean State, help to unlock millions in household energy cost savings over time, and realize significant reductions in annual carbon dioxide emissions.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In 2017, we took advantage of the Solarize Charlestown to install solar panels at a discount. Over the past seven years despite living in a wooded area, our monthly electricity bill is much lower plus we get a monthly check from National Grid for their purchase of excess power our panels produce and feed into the grid. We've long past the break-even point. Charlestown ought to do this again and if they do, you ought to consider going solar.     - Will Collette

Here are ways to filter out some harmful ‘forever chemicals’ at home

Removing PFAS from public water will cost billions and take time

Kyle DoudrickUniversity of Notre Dame

PFAS are showing up in water systems across the U.S.
 Jacek Dylag/UnsplashCC BY
Chemists invented PFAS in the 1930s to make life easier: Nonstick pans, waterproof clothing, grease-resistant food packaging and stain-resistant carpet were all made possible by PFAS. 

But in recent years, the growing number of health risks found to be connected to these chemicals has become increasingly alarming.

PFAS – perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances – are now either suspected or known to contribute to thyroid disease, elevated cholesterol, liver damage and cancer, among other health issues.

They can be found in the blood of most Americans and in many drinking water systems, which is why the Environmental Protection Agency in April 2024 finalized the first enforceable federal limits for six types of PFAS in drinking water systems. 

The limits – between 4 and 10 parts per trillion for PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFNA and GenX – are less than a drop of water in a thousand Olympic-sized swimming pools, which speaks to the chemicals’ toxicity. The sixth type, PFBS, is regulated as a mixture using what’s known as a hazard index.

Meeting these new limits won’t be easy or cheap. And there’s another problem: While PFAS can be filtered out of water, these “forever chemicals” are hard to destroy.

My team at the University of Notre Dame works on solving problems involving contaminants in water systems, including PFAS. We explore new technologies to remove PFAS from drinking water and to handle the PFAS waste. Here’s a glimpse of the magnitude of the challenge and ways you can reduce PFAS in your own drinking water:

EPA’s New Guidelines, and Funding, Will Boost Testing and Controls of PFAS in Rhode Island

Numerous sites across South County, including Charlestown

By Mary Lhowe / ecoRI News contributor

PFAS, manufactured since the 1940s, can be found in our food, our drinking water, and in our body tissue. They are in the soil, in rainwater, and in emissions spewed into the air. (EPA)

The Biden administration and the Environmental Protection Agency announced new guidelines this month that will give a push to efforts around the nation, including in Rhode Island, to eliminate or reduce toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — a class of chemicals known as PFAS — from drinking water.

The announcement created the first nationwide and enforceable ceiling — or “maximum contaminant level” (MCL) — of 4 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFAS in drinking water. A few types of PFAS chemicals were given a federal MCL of 10 ppt.

The new federal levels are more restrictive than the current maximum contaminant level in Rhode Island, which is 20 ppt in drinking water. Up to April 10, when the guidelines were announced, no federal level existed; states devised maximum contaminant levels for themselves.

The announcement also said the federal government would offer $1 billion to states and territories for testing and treatment of drinking water. It is part of a $9 billion investment through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help communities track and clean up PFAS and other “emerging contaminants” in drinking water.

EPA believes that 6% to 10% of the nation’s 66,000 public drinking water systems may have to take action to reduce PFAS to meet the new standards. It also said the final rule of April 10 would reduce PFAS exposure for about 100 million people.

Both through legislation and in water treatment facilities and water pipes, Rhode Island has been working over the past few years to get control over PFAS — a class of toxic chemicals that have been used since the 1940s in a wide range of consumer products from food wrappers to carpets to Teflon pans to firefighting foam.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Republicans keep wasting our money on their ideological boondoggles

Americans Pay a High Price for the GOP's Fiscal Irresponsibility

DAN BROOK for Common Dreams

The GOP is fiscally irresponsible in all sorts of ways.

Republicans are worse for the economy overall, worse for gross domestic product, worse for the budget deficit and national debt, worse for the trade deficit, worse for job growth, worse for wage increases, worse for inequality, worse for the stock market, and worse for much else.

No modern Republican president has ever reduced the deficit in any year with any budget. Every Republican president raised the federal budget deficit by overspending wildly on the military, the wealthy, and other wasteful things that don't constructively add to our economy or society.

The only three modern presidents to reduce the budget deficit have been Bill Clinton (who eliminated it and created a surplus), Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, all Democrats.

  • About three-fourths of the entire national debt was accrued under Republican borrow-and-spend presidents.
  • Republicans run higher trade deficits than Democrats.
  • Unemployment is higher under Republican administrations
  • The stock market does worse under Republican administrations, on average.
  • Most recessions have begun under Republican administrations, as did the Great Depression.

None of the tax cuts for the rich and corporations that Republicans said would pay for themselves wound up paying for themselves. Instead, they made the wealthy wealthier. 

Push back on November 5

 

A cartoon by Clay Bennett

No good deed goes unpunished


 

URI-led team finds direct evidence of ‘itinerant breeding’ in East Coast shorebird species

And they DANCE!

Migration and reproduction are two of the most demanding events in a bird’s annual cycle, so much so that the vast majority of migratory birds separate the two tasks into different times of the year.

But a study by University of Rhode Island researchers has found direct evidence of a species – the American woodcock, a migratory shorebird from eastern and central North America – that overlaps periods of migration and reproduction, a rare breeding strategy known as “itinerant breeding.” Their work, backed by collaborators across the East Coast, was published in the biological sciences journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Fermented foods sustain both microbiomes and cultural heritage

Don't fear the pickle

Andrew FlachsPurdue University and Joseph OrkinUniversité de Montréal

Each subtle cultural or personal twist to a fermented
dish is felt by your body’s microbial community.
 microgen/iStock via Getty Images
Many people around the world make and eat fermented foods. Millions in Korea alone make kimchi. 

The cultural heritage of these picklers shape not only what they eat every time they crack open a jar but also something much, much smaller: their microbiomes.

On the microbial scale, we are what we eat in very real ways. Your body is teeming with trillions of microbes. These complex ecosystems exist on your skin, inside your mouth and in your gut. They are particularly influenced by your surrounding environment, especially the food you eat. Just like any other ecosystem, your gut microbiome requires diversity to be healthy.

People boil, fry, bake and season meals, transforming them through cultural ideas of “good food.” When people ferment food, they affect the microbiome of their meals directly. Fermentation offers a chance to learn how taste and heritage shape microbiomes: not only of culturally significant foods such as German sauerkraut, kosher pickles, Korean kimchi or Bulgarian yogurt, but of our own guts.

RI Congressional incumbents amass impressive campaign war chests

Lots of green helps keep RI Blue

By Janine L. Weisman, Rhode Island Current

Congratulations to Seth and wife Julia McDowell
on the birth of their new daughter, and son Max's
new sister. Not to mention the healthy
campaign war chest.
The state’s Democratic congressional delegates up for re-election this year are showing healthy war chests, according to first quarter campaign finance reports with the Federal Elections Commission.

U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner reported he had over $1 million in cash on hand as of March 31 for his reelection bid to seek a second term in his 2nd Congressional District seat.

The first quarter filing deadline was Monday.

Republican Steven Corvi, a Warwick resident, formally announced his campaign to run for the 2nd Congressional District seat to the news media on April 13. Corvi, whose LinkedIn page says he has a Ph.D. in history, is listed as an adjunct history professor at Bentley University and Northeastern University. 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Westerly Rep. Azzinaro sets up redundant commission

Waste of time

By Will Collette

UPDATE: If you really want to know more about the climate crisis and our shoreline, I suggest you attend this forum (or you can wait for Sam's commission to come out with its findings, presuming it ever meets:

RI State Senator Victoria Gu and RI State Representative Tina Spears will host a Town Hall on Climate Resiliency on Monday April 29th, 6-8pm at the Quonochontaug Grange Hall (5662 Post Road, Charlestown, RI). RI CRMC, RI EMA, and FEMA representatives will also be participating.

They will discuss some frequently asked questions about recent storm recovery work, regulations, and funding opportunities for mitigation work.

FEMA and RI EMA representatives will do a presentation and will be available to assist individuals and business owners who sustained losses during the Dec 17-19th 2023/Jan 9th-13th 2024 storms and are eligible for federal disaster relief funds. May 20th, 2024 is the deadline to apply (people may also visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov).

Residents, local officials, and businesses are invited to share their ideas, experiences, and priorities regarding climate resiliency efforts in our area.

For well over a decade, anyone who has been paying attention knows we are in a worsening climate crisis. Its effects on Rhode Island are already clear - bizarre weather, bigger and more frequent storms and sea level rise.

For more than a decade, government, academia and non-profit organizations have devoted considerable time and money to study this problem and come up with ways to cope. URI, the Woods Hole Institute, NOAA, DEM and the CRMC have looked closely what to do about Rhode Island's climate-driven coastal erosion problem.

Some fine work has already been done and lots of different options have been explored, including some that have already been put into effect.

Two local General Assembly members from Charlestown's Rep. Tina Spears and Sen. Victoria Gu, jointly sponsored legislation to promote coastal resiliency, drawing on the hard work already done by scientists and experts. 

So why then does Rep. Sam Azzinaro (DINO-Westerly) want to set up a new study commission on beach erosion? 

It's hardly within the scope of his two main categories of concern, namely veterans' affairs and anything of concern to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. (He once said he put the interests of ex-Bishop Thomas Tobin over his own constituents). 

Azzinaro says, as if this had not occurred to him before, "We have a serious problem here...This commission will be an important tool to protect our beaches and hopefully reverse the erosion that is plaguing too many oceanfront communities.”

His commission would include the same agencies that has already done the work but adds the director of the Misquamicut Business Association.

The House approved the resolution probably for the same reason they had approved ex-Rep. Justin Price (MAGA-Richmond) legislation to create a study commission on "chemtrails - to shut him up. Price's chemtrail commission never met and never issued findings. I am willing to bet the same fate awaits Sam's commission.

I suggest it is time for Sam to consider retirement and let voters choose a new representative. Or at minimum, he should stick to what he knows.

Here's the official news release on Azzinaro's commission: 

Always classy: snoozing and farting through his criminal trial

By Chris Britt

Keep Donald Trump away from babies

Concerned about developing babies, EPA warns about danger of weed killer used on farms, golf courses

JOHNATHAN HETTINGER  

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday took the rare step of issuing a warning about “serious, permanent, and irreversible health risks” associated with a chemical used to kill weeds on farms and golf courses and athletic fields. 

Citing “significant health risks to pregnant individuals and their developing babies,” the agency said farmworkers and others handling dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate, more commonly known as DCPA, were at risk, as are people who might play on courses or fields recently sprayed with the pesticide. 

The most serious risks extend to the developing babies of pregnant women, especially those handling DCPA products.  

The agency said pregnant women exposed to DCPA could experience changes to fetal thyroid hormone levels, which are linked to low birth weight, impaired brain development, decreased IQ, and impaired motor skills later in life.  

Though product labels say people should stay out of fields for 12 hours after they are sprayed with DCPA, the EPA said evidence indicates that in many cases, sprayed fields would be unsafe for 25 days or more. 

The agency additionally said that mothers and their developing babies could be at risk if they live near areas where DCPA is used because the pesticide can drift.

Microplastics Make Their Way from the Gut to Other Organs

How do they get there? What do they do?

By Nicole San Roman

It’s happening every day. From our water, our food and even the air we breathe, tiny plastic particles are finding their way into many parts of our body.

But what happens once those particles are inside? What do they do to our digestive system?

In a recent paper published in the journal  Environmental Health Perspectives, University of New Mexico researchers found that those tiny particles – microplastics – are having a significant impact on our digestive pathways, making their way from the gut and into the tissues of the kidney, liver and brain.

Research continues to show the importance of gut health. If you don't have a healthy gut, it affects the brain, it affects the liver and so many other tissues. So even imagining that the microplastics are doing something in the in the gut, that chronic exposure could lead to systemic effects.

Governors of old Confederacy states declare war on the United Auto Workers

Goes to show how alive the plantation mentality is in the South

Is the South preparing itself for a second Civil War? The following statement was issued by the Republican Governors of Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. It speaks for itself.

Three days after this denunciation of unions, the UAW won an election at a big Volkswagen plant in Tennessee on April 19. 
President Joe Biden made this comment on the union's win:
"Let me be clear to the Republican governors that tried to undermine this vote: there is nothing to fear from American workers using their voice and their legal right to form a union if they so choose."
 Here's the full statement by the Republican governors:

MONTGOMERY, APRIL 16, 2024– Governor Kay Ivey, along with the governors of Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, issued the following joint statement:

“We the governors of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas are highly concerned about the unionization campaign driven by misinformation and scare tactics that the UAW has brought into our states. As governors, we have a responsibility to our constituents to speak up when we see special interests looking to come into our state and threaten our jobs and the values we live by.

“The reality is companies have choices when it comes to where to invest and bring jobs and opportunity. We have worked tirelessly on behalf of our constituents to bring good-paying jobs to our states. These jobs have become part of the fabric of the automotive manufacturing industry. Unionization would certainly put our states’ jobs in jeopardy – in fact, in this year already, all of the UAW automakers have announced layoffs. In America, we respect our workforce and we do not need to pay a third party to tell us who can pick up a box or flip a switch. No one wants to hear this, but it’s the ugly reality. We’ve seen it play out this way every single time a foreign automaker plant has been unionized; not one of those plants remains in operation. And we are seeing it in the fallout of the Detroit Three strike with those automakers rethinking investments and cutting jobs. Putting businesses in our states in that position is the last thing we want to do.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

If Trump Wins, the GOP Is Ready to Wage War on the Working Class

Their Project 2025 plan shows what they plan to do to workers

REBECCA GORDON for the TomDispatch

Recently, you may have noticed that the hot weather is getting ever hotter. Every year the United States swelters under warmer temperatures and longer periods of sustained heat. 

In fact, each of the last nine months—May 2023 through February 2024—set a world record for heat. As I’m writing this, March still has a couple of days to go, but likely as not, it, too, will set a record.

Such heat poses increasing health hazards for many groups: the old, the very young, those of us who don’t have access to air conditioning. One group, however, is at particular risk: people whose jobs require lengthy exposure to heat. 

Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that about 40 workers died of heat exposure between 2011 and 2021, although, as CNN reports, that’s probably a significant undercount. 

In February 2024, responding to this growing threat, a coalition of 10 state attorneys general petitioned the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to implement “a nationwide extreme heat emergency standard” to protect workers from the kinds of dangers that last year killed, among others, construction workers, farm workers, factory workers, and at least one employee who was laboring in an unairconditioned area of a warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee.

Facing the threat of overweening government interference from OSHA or state regulators, two brave Republican-run state governments have stepped in to protect employers from just such dangerous oversight. Florida and Texas have both passed laws prohibiting localities from mandating protections like rest breaks for, or even having to provide drinking water to, workers in extreme heat situations. 

Seriously, Florida and Texas have made it illegal for local cities to protect their workers from the direct effects of climate change. Apparently, being “woke” includes an absurd desire not to see workers die of heat exhaustion.

And those state laws are very much in keeping with the plans that the national right-wing has for workers, should the wholly-owned Trump subsidiary that is today’s Republican Party take control of the federal government this November.

GOP 2024 playbook

For more cartoons by Tom Tomorrow, CLICK HERE

Hey Donald - wishing won't make it so

Municipal Recycling Rates Remain Abysmal

Charlestown could do better, too

By Rob Smith / ecoRI News staff

Charlestown is in the bracket for towns without curbside pickup, where trash is either brought to a transfer station or picked up by a private contractor. Compared to similar towns, Charlestown is not the worst, but is far from the best.

Nearly 12 years after the state imposed recycling and waste diversion mandates on its cities and towns, most municipalities still struggle to achieve them.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As early as 1986, Charlestown resisted mandatory recycling. According to a letter from Charlestown Public Works Director Alan Arsenault, Charlestown would be unable to comply because, he predicted, part-time and summer residents would not cooperate so the town should be exempt. The letter also makes the dubious claim that mandatory recycling would be bad for tourism. Read that letter HERE. - Will Collette.

The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), the quasi-public state agency that operates the Central Landfill in Johnston, recently released its annual report detailing how much every city and town in the state is recycling, and how much waste they are sending to the landfill.

Last year’s results were abysmal. Only 15 of the state’s 39 municipalities met or exceeded the 35% recycling rate mandated by a 2012 state law. Their waste diversion rates were even worse. The same law requires municipalities to divert at least 50% of overall waste sent to the landfill. Only two met the minimum in 2023: North Kingstown and Portsmouth.

The Gas Utility Industry is Gaslighting Us

Propaganda and disinformation obscures health risks

Elliott Negin, Senior Writer, Union of Concerned Scientists

During my first decade in Washington, D.C., my windows were caked with soot from the diesel buses that ran up and down my street. 

So when I found a place to live just a few blocks away on a street without buses, it was a relief. What I didn’t know is that my health was still at risk—from indoor pollution.

Thanks to a recent test conducted by my local Sierra Club chapter, I learned that the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions from the hoodless gas stove I’ve been cooking on for the last 30 years in my poorly ventilated galley kitchen exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum safe level of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for a one-hour exposure outdoors. (There is no EPA standard for indoor air.)

The highest level the Sierra Club’s air quality monitor detected when my oven and two burners were on was 103 ppb, but even at low concentrations, NO2 irritates the upper respiratory tract and lungs, and longtime exposures have been associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and childhood asthma.

Fortunately, I don’t have COPD and I didn’t contract asthma when I was young, perhaps partly because I grew up in a home with an electric range. But other Washingtonians may not be as lucky. 

While less than 40 percent of households nationwide cook on a gas stove, 62 percent of households in Washington do. Perhaps not coincidentally, a higher percentage of adults in the District suffer from asthma than in all of the 50 states, and the prevalence of asthma among children under 18 in the nation’s capital is second only to that of kids in Mississippi. 

The $1 Trillion Cost of Corporate Misconduct

Wonder who will end up paying?

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

But without jail, it's just the cost of doing business
When you hear a reference to $1 trillion, it usually is in connection to the stock market capitalization of a handful of the largest tech companies. 

Yet that ten-figure number can now also be applied to what those companies and others have together paid in fines and settlements to resolve allegations of misconduct.

The total penalties documented in the Violation Tracker database for the period from 2000 through the present now surpass $1 trillion. To mark this milestone, my colleagues and I have just issued a report called The High Cost of Misconduct, which looks back at the last quarter-century of corporate crime and regulatory non-compliance.

Total payouts grew from around $7 billion per year in the early 2000s to more than $50 billion annually in recent years. This amounts to a seven-fold increase in current dollars, or a 300 percent increase in constant dollars.

The $1 trillion total could not have been reached without the massive penalties paid by companies such as Bank of America ($87 billion, mainly in connection with the toxic securities and mortgage abuses scandals of the late 2000s), BP ($36 billion, mainly from the Deepwater Horizon disaster), Wells Fargo ($27 billion, largely from the bogus accounts scandal), and Volkswagen ($26 billion, primarily from the emissions cheating scandal). There are 127 companies with penalty totals of $1 billion or more.

With these companies and many others, their totals reflect flagrant recidivism.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Wingnuts of the week

Which side are you on?

Tele-health coverage needs Congressional renewal

Congress Likely to Kick the Can on Covid-Era Telehealth Policies

 

Nearly two hours into a Capitol Hill hearing focused on rural health, Rep. Brad Wenstrup emphatically told the committee’s five witnesses: “Hang with us.”

Federal lawmakers face a year-end deadline to solidify or scuttle an array of covid-era payment changes for telehealth services that include allowing people to stay in their homes to see a doctor or therapist.

During the hearing in early March, Wenstrup and other House members offered personal anecdotes on how telehealth, home visits, and remote monitoring helped their patients, relatives, and constituents. 

Wenstrup, a Republican from Ohio who is also a podiatric surgeon and a retired Army reservist, told the audience: “Patients are less anxious and heal better when they can be at home.”

Most of the proposals focus on how Medicare covers telehealth services. But the rules affect patients on all types of insurance plans because typically private insurers and some government programs follow Medicare’s example. 

Without congressional action, virtual health care services like audio-only calls or meeting online with specialty doctors — such as an occupational therapist — could end. 

The bills would also continue to allow rural health clinics and other health centers to offer telehealth services while waiving a requirement for in-person mental health visits.

Telehealth use ballooned in the early months of the covid-19 pandemic and grew into a household term. The practice has become a popular issue for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

In one U.S. Census Bureau survey conducted from April 2021 to August 2022, Medicare and Medicaid enrollees reported using telehealth visits the most — 26.8% and 28.3%, respectively. The survey of nearly 1.2 million adults also found that Black patients and those earning less than $25,000 reported high rates of telehealth use. Notably, people of color were more likely to use audio-only visits.

PFAS Exposure From High Seafood Diets May Be Underestimated

Study stresses the need to set safety standards for “forever chemicals” in seafood.

Morgan Kelly 

A Dartmouth-led study suggests that people who frequently consume seafood may face an increased risk of exposure to PFAS, the family of ubiquitous and resilient human-made toxins known as “forever chemicals.”

The findings stress the need for more stringent public health guidelines that establish the amount of seafood people can safely consume to limit their exposure to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the researchers report in the journal Exposure and Health. 

This need is especially urgent for coastal regions such as New England where a legacy of industry and PFAS pollution bumps up against a cultural predilection for fish, the authors write.

“Our recommendation isn’t to not eat seafood—seafood is a great source of lean protein and omega fatty acids. But it also is a potentially underestimated source of PFAS exposure in humans,” says Megan Romano, the study’s corresponding author and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Geisel School of Medicine.

“Understanding this risk-benefit trade-off for seafood consumption is important for people making decisions about diet, especially for vulnerable populations such as pregnant people and children,” Romano says.

A dollar by dollar look at how our taxes enrich military contractors — at the expense of things that actually make us secure.

You're paying for it

By Lindsay Koshgarian 

Illustration by Sarah Gertler / Institute for Policy Studies.

Ever wonder where your taxes go? Each year, the Institute for Policy Studies releases a tax receipt so you can find out.

One item always stands out: the Pentagon — and the contractors who profit off it.

In 2023, the average taxpayer spent $2,974 on the Pentagon. Of that, just $705 went to salaries for the troops, who often have to rely on programs like food stamps. A much larger sum — $1,748 — went to corporate Pentagon contractors. That’s more than the average American’s monthly rent, $1,372.

From Lockheed Martin (the top federal contractor and longtime weapons maker) to SpaceX (which Elon Musk runs when he’s not spewing racist and anti-semitic tropes), these corporations don’t need your support. And they aren’t operating with your well-being in mind.

Enriching them comes at the cost of better health care, education, clean air and water, disaster management, and more. Here are just five examples from the average tax bill.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Do not feed the trolls.

It only encourages them

By Will Collette

Several years ago, Tom Ferrio and I decided to turn off the comments section of Progressive Charlestown after we were being swamped daily with spam and troll messages. This was even before today's sophisticated bot technology that Russia used so well to promote Donald Trump's 2016 election.

There is no reasoning with bots and, unfortunately, you also can't carry on a rational conversation with fanatics, especially Trump's legion of MAGAnuts. They may be human but they're really not all there. Plus, engagement could be dangerous since at least a few of them are prone to violence.

Recently, Charlestown's Jim Mageau has been flexing his rhetorical muscles with rants in the Westerly Sun, often to attack Democrats, excoriate Joe Biden and promote his spiritual master Donald Trump. These letters have gotten Jim the attention he so desperately needs by drawing in well-meaning people who felt the need to debate him.

Big mistake.

I have to admit I was tempted, but then after thinking about it, I wrote this Letter to the Sun instead: 

Letters to the editor columns and social media get filled these days with many provocative messages often filled with lies and personal attacks. It’s hard not to get angry and want to lash out with a counterattack.

Most of the time, it’s a waste of time to do get into the argument. It adds little to rational public debate since most of these provocations are so over the top that few pay them any attention.

You won’t change the messengers' minds since they range from Russian bots designed to disrupt American civil society to pathetic old cranks looking for attention.

Don’t give them what they want – it only encourages them.

If you actually like trolls, come to Ninigret Park this summer and enjoy.