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Monday, July 15, 2024

Donald Trump wants to reinstate a spoils system in federal government by hiring political loyalists regardless of competence

Another Trump term means institutionalized corruption

Sidney ShapiroWake Forest University and Joseph P. TomainUniversity of Cincinnati

By Bill Bramhall
If elected to serve a second term,
Donald Trump says he supports a plan that would give him the authority to fire as many as 50,000 civil servants and replace them with members of his political party loyal to him. Under this plan, if he eventually deemed those new employees disloyal, he claims he could fire them too.

The United States has tried such a plan before.

As we write in our book “How Government Built America,” newly elected President Andrew Jackson, after he took office in 1828, fired about half the country’s civil servants and replaced them with loyal members of his political party.

The result was not only an utterly incompetent administration, but widespread corruption.

"They let you do whatever you want"


Both sides?

New study advances understanding of brain responses to emotionally-charged scenes

Run screaming or slow retreat?

Trinity College Dublin

The ability to recognize and respond to emotionally-charged situations is essential to a species' evolutionary success. A new study published today [July 9th] in Nature Communications advances our understanding of how the brain responds to emotionally charged objects and scenes.

The research, led by Trinity College Dublin neuroscientist Prof. Sonia Bishop and Google researcher Samy Abdel-Ghaffar while he was a PhD student in Prof. Bishop's lab at UC Berkeley, has identified how the brain represents different categories of emotional stimuli in a way that allows for more than a simple 'approach avoid' dichotomy when guiding behavioral responses. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, USA.

Sonia Bishop, now Chair of Psychology, in Trinity's School of Psychology and senior author of the paper explains: "It is hugely important for all species to be able to recognize and respond appropriately to emotionally salient stimuli, whether that means not eating rotten food, running from a bear, approaching an attractive person in a bar or comforting a tearful child.

"How the brain enables us to respond in a nuanced way to emotionally-charged situations and stimuli has long been of interest. But, little is known about the how the brain stores schemas or neural representations to support the nuanced behavioral choices we make in response to emotional natural stimuli.

"Neuroscience studies of motivated behavior often focus on simple approach or avoidance behaviors -- such as lever pressing for food or changing locations to avoid a shock. However, when faced with natural emotional stimuli, humans don't simply choose between 'approach' or 'avoid'. Rather they select from a complex range of suitable responses. So, for example, our 'avoid' response to a large bear (leave the area ASAP) is different to our 'avoid' response to a weak, diseased, animal (don't get too close). Similarly our 'approach' response to the positive stimuli of a potential mate differs to our 'approach' reaction to a cute baby.

Heat this week

After Cotter’s advocacy, DEM gets additional forest rangers

Good work, Megan!

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is authorized to hire additional forest rangers this year as a result of a push from Rep. Megan Cotter.

Representative Cotter (D-Dist. 39, Exeter, Richmond, Hopkinton), who led a House study commission to identify ways to improve forest management in Rhode Island, introduced legislation (2024-H 7258) this year seeking funding for additional forestry staff to help the DEM effectively manage the 40,000 acres of state-managed forest land within its purview.

That legislation led to the addition of $180,000 for the two forest rangers in the 2025 state budget bill (2024-H 7225Aaa) passed by the General Assembly last month. The additional rangers are to help maintain the health of the forest, coordinate responses to forest fires and improve the stewardship of state management areas.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Boeing is emblematic of what's wrong

And let's not forget Boeing's defective space capsule has left astronauts stranded at the International Space Station 

The Boeing Starliner (NASA photo)

The NASA Starliner lifted off on June 5 after repeated aborted delays due to leaks and other issues. They were supposed to return within a few days. Instead, those same defects - helium leaks, thruster problems - have left them stranded - though NASA refuses to use that word. 

Maybe they can return on the Starliner, though I do not trust that vehicle to be safe, especially given Boeing's recent criminal conviction for lying about the safety condition of their 737s. Maybe they can return on some other spacecraft.

But if Boeing loses this crew, I would hope that instead of corporation fines, Boeing executives with be personally held liable and if found guilty, be imprisoned for manslaughter.

Our new Supreme Court

Rhode Island in 10th place for median income

Visual Capitalist graphic

Rep. Magaziner Calls on Billionaires to Pay their Fair Share in Taxes on House Floor

Tax the rich! 

U.S. Representative Seth Magaziner (RI-02) spoke on the House Floor to call on billionaires to pay their fair share in taxes. Excerpts from his speech are below: 

“In the 1960's, the people at the very top, the richest 400 Americans, paid about twice the tax rate that the average middle class family did. But in 2018, during the Donald Trump presidency, and for the first time in our history, the billionaires started paying a lower tax rate than nurses, teachers, firefighters and most other middle class Americans who put in an honest day's work and make our economy run. It is unfair, it is absurd, it is wrong. 

“How did we get here? For years corrupt right-wing politicians gave tax break after tax break to the billionaires and big corporations who funded their campaigns. And when the billionaires and big corporations don't pay their fair share in taxes, you know who has to carry the load? Working people. 

Don't drink a toast to your health

Alcohol and Heart Disease

Ahmed A. Tawakol, MD

Art by Sefira Lightstone
Previous research has shown an association between drinking alcohol and having a lower risk of heart disease, according to the American College of Cardiology.

However, scientists didn’t understand the reasons for the potentially protective effects. Potential explanations included that people who had a drink or two per day also ate a healthier diet, or maybe they happened to exercise regularly. Genetic factors or socioeconomic factors also could play a role.

A new Mass General Brigham study has shed some light on the relationship between alcohol and heart health: Researchers found that light-to-moderate drinking is associated with long-term reductions in stress signals in the brain. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, also found that lower stress signals were associated with fewer heart attacks and strokes.

But that doesn’t mean you should toast to your heart health, says Mass General Brigham cardiologist Ahmed Tawakol, MD, a senior author on the paper. Dr. Tawakol cares for patients at Massachusetts General Hospital. He emphasizes that alcohol also has negative effects. Even light alcohol intake increases cancer risk, and higher amounts can negatively affect brain health.

“This new information offers an important message that we should implement other ways to lower stress signals in the brain, without the potential adverse effects of alcohol,” says Dr. Tawakol.

Why the General Assembly won't curb "payday lending"

There's an invisible barrier

By Kate McGovern, Rhode Island Current

Bills with widespread support end up stalled for years in the Rhode Island General Assembly without resolution while advocates plead with the Senate president and House speaker to allow votes to take place. 

It happened again in 2024, when the legislature once again failed to stop predatory payday lenders.

The Senate president refused to allow consideration of legislation (H-7211 and S-2141) that would protect vulnerable borrowers from a loophole in state law that allows payday lenders to charge fees that are the equivalent of annual percentage rates (APR) up to 260%. You might think the rules give the leadership the authority to decide what does and doesn’t come up. It’s not the rules. An invisible electric fence stops our state lawmakers  from voting on pending legislation. 

There is no rule preventing legislators from making motions in committees or preventing committee chairs from taking votes on pending matters. However, they know not to act without permission from the leadership. This is why bills get stuck out in a pasture for years as the electric fence warns them off. 

There’s a way out. Both House and Senate rules outline a procedure to compel consideration by filing a discharge petition. To move a bill forward, the petition must be signed by a majority of legislators in that chamber. It is considered the “nuclear option.” Much like the electric fence functions to keep animals corralled, legislators understand that such an action is off limits.    

From the outside looking in, it might seem unclear what makes the electric fence effective. Consider these rationalizations: 

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Pope Francis defends democracy against fascism

Trumpers go nuts, of course

Pope Francis sounds a dire warning about democracy as MAGA-type fascism grows in strength around the world — and specifically warns against dangerous "populists."

Right-wingers are throwing a fit over this one...

"It is evident that democracy is not in good health in today’s world," said Francis, head of the Catholic Church, during a visit to northern Italy.

"Indifference is a cancer of democracy. I am concerned about the small number of people who went to vote. Why is it happening?" said Francis.

The pope compared democracy to a "wounded heart" that is vulnerable to dangerous corruption. He also explained that true democracy isn't just about voting, it's about ensuring that all people can participate.

The pope urged voters to reject "ideological temptations and populists" and embrace better cooperation.

"Ideologies are seductive. Some people compare them to the Pied Piper of Hamelin: they seduce but lead you to deny yourself," said the pope, seemingly referring to the fascism that is gaining popularity in the Republican Party and parts of Europe.

He encouraged voters to "move away from polarizations that impoverish.

While Francis didn't mention Donald Trump by name, MAGA fans are interpreting it as a direct attack. Conservatives already disliked this pope because they believe that he's "too liberal."

Sorry Trumpers, the truth hurts. You're on the wrong side of history.

Of course, the Founding Fathers wanted a king

Living in New England is expensive

Visual Capitalist