October 1, 2023

Some small towns in America are disbanding police forces, citing hiring woes

GOODHUE, Minn. (AP) — As Goodhue Police Chief Josh Smith struggled this summer to fill vacancies in his small department, he warned the town’s City Council that unless pay and benefits improved, finding new officers would never happen. When nothing changed, Smith quit. So did his few remaining officers, leading the Minnesota town of 1,300 residents to shutter its police force in late August.

America is in the midst of a police officer shortage that many in law enforcement blame on the twofold morale hit of 2020 — the coronavirus pandemic and criticism of police that boiled over with the murder of George Floyd by a police officer. From Minnesota to Maine, Ohio to Texas, small towns unable to fill jobs are eliminating their police departments and turning over police work to their county sheriff, a neighboring town or state police.

The trend isn’t altogether new. At least 521 U.S. towns and cities with populations of 1,000 to 200,000 disbanded policing between 1972 and 2017, according to a peer-reviewed 2022 paper by Rice University Professor of Economics Richard T. Boylan. In the past two years, at least 12 small towns have dissolved their departments.

To Many Americans, Government Dysfunction Is the New Normal

Peter Baker, NY Times - As the nation’s capital seemed to be barreling toward another debilitating federal government shutdown this weekend, America, well, did not exactly seem to be on the edge of its collective seat.Judging by Google search trends, at least, Americans in the days leading up to the shutdown-that-wasn’t were more curious about who shot Tupac Shakur, who might win “The Golden Bachelor” and who would claim the giant Powerball jackpot. Even National Coffee Day 2023 generated more searches at one point than the possible government shutdown...

America, it seems, has come to expect crisis. In an era of disruption and polarization and insurrection, with a former president facing 91 felony counts in four criminal indictments and a sitting president facing an impeachment inquiry and a House speaker facing a possible move to oust him, the country has grown accustomed to chaos in the capital. Dysfunction is the new normal.


Action updates

His name is Eric Willoughby, and he's 17 years old, and every last person in this country should listen to what he has to say.

Stupid Trump stuff

Trump Calls For People To Be 'Shot' If They Rob Stores 

Trump pledges to have his DOJ investigate every Dem AG and DA in the country

Trump claims rich people in Beverly Hills aren’t allowed to take long showers and that’s why they smell

Meanwhile. . .

Bill McKibben
 - New York's old rainfall record stood for 150 years until 2021, and has now been broken three times.

Nice News -  Former President Jimmy Carter is celebrating his 99th birthday today. Born October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia, he holds a number of records related to his advanced years. Not only is Carter the oldest-living president, but he’s also the longest-living president in U.S. history, and he and former first lady Rosalynn Carter are the longest-married first couple, having marked their 77th wedding anniversary in July. The pair made a rare public appearance at the Plains Peanut Festival last weekend, where the 39th president likely enjoyed a scoop of peanut butter ice cream — one of his favorite desserts. Get Carter’s homemade peanut butter recipe and click here to learn 45 interesting presidential facts, including who kept possums as pets and who considered choosing actor Clint Eastwood as his running mate.

New Orleans faces threat to drinking water

Axios - Saltwater creeping up the Mississippi River is threatening the drinking water supply in New Orleans, Axios' Chelsea Brasted and Carlie Kollath Wells report. The water supply for more than 1.2 million people is expected to become unsafe to drink by late October. It could be weeks or months before freshwater returns, unless there's significant rainfall. President Biden declared a national emergency.

A drought across the Mississippi River Valley means saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico is coming upriver. Communities south of New Orleans have had salt in their water since June. A massive reverse osmosis machine that desalinates water is being installed in Plaquemines Parish, just southeast of New Orleans. Two more machines are on the way. But these units won't be able to produce enough water to meet the demand in metro New Orleans.

September 30, 2023

Extreme weather raises insurance rates

 Axios -  About 12 million properties may see premium hikes because of the risk of flooding ... nearly 24 million because of potential wind damage ... and 4 million because of wildfire risk, Axios' Brianna Crane writes from estimates by First Street Foundation, a climate data nonprofit.  Many homeowners may struggle to manage higher costs, raising the risk of mortgage defaults. And some insurers are pulling out of high-risk areas.  Insurers are changing how they factor climate and extreme weather risks into the premiums they charge for coverage, while some are suspending coverage altogether.


Meanwhile. ..

Torrential rainfall led to severe flooding across New York City, from New Jersey through all five boroughs and extending northeast into Connecticut, Axios extreme-weather expert Andrew Freedman writes.  Up to nine inches of rain fell.

Philadelphia schools are paying parents $300 a month to drive children to class amid chronic bus-driver shortage across the US

Resurrecting the Common Good: A Civic Education for All

Robert Reich -  When, in 1961, I heard John F. Kennedy’s admonition that we ask what we can do for our nation, I was attending a small public high school in upstate New York. Part of the required curriculum was citizenship education. It involved a series of courses on history and government. As in most schools, some were well taught; others were taught abysmally.

Civic education in the 1950s and 1960s reflected many of the prejudices of that time.  Yet it at least engaged us, day after day, in the practice of thinking about the well-being of our society and the world. The ongoing examination of history and our system of government had a cumulative effect: Regardless of our politics, we began to see ourselves as the inheritors of an important legacy. That legacy was far from perfect, but it was profoundly important.Above all, we had an obligation to become responsible citizens.

Civic education was long ago eliminated from the standard high school curriculum.Now, education is viewed mainly as a private investment rather than a public good. What you learn is what you’ll earn, as the popular saying goes.

Yet if education is simply a private investment yielding private returns, there is no reason why anyone other than the “investor” should pay for it. No wonder increasing numbers of parents resist paying for the education of children who are poorer or require extra teacher time and resources....

But education is not just a private investment. It is also a public good. America’s founders knew that the survival of the new republic necessitated a public wise enough to keep power within bounds. It required citizens capable of resolving the tension between private interests and the common good — people imbued with civic virtue. More

First-grader goes door to door with offer to read to seniors

Credit: Devin Krinke, KARE

KARE11,  East Grand Forks, MN  -  As she begins first grade, Maggie Kuznia is already a natural storyteller. “Did you know you could eat at the Eiffel Tower?” Maggie asks a visitor she’s just met — who didn’t.  The topics change quickly, from puzzles to ice cream bars, with Maggie pausing occasionally to breathe.

But Maggie’s storytelling has recently taken a geriatric turn.  After reading to Cecelia Grembowski, Maggie Kuznia gets a thank you hug. Maggie, who recently turned 7, unzips her backpack adorned with Elsa from “Frozen.” .... Then, Maggie sits down on the couch next to Patti and reads. Over the next couple hours, the process will be repeated multiple times. Maggie walks from apartment to apartment, knocking on doors, as residents of Good Samaritan Society Heritage Grove senior living invite her in to read to them.

8 facts about recent Latino immigrants to the U.S.

Politics update

Fascism in America: a long history that predates Trump

The Supreme Court faces a legitimacy crisis at the dawn of its new term, and a majority of voters support reforms such as a binding code of ethics and term limits.A new Politico | Morning Consult poll shows three-in-four voters want the justices bound to an ethics code, the most popular reform proposal in the survey.

 A 65% majority of Americans would prefer if the president were elected by popular vote, while a third favor the current Electoral College system. Most Democrats (82%) support a switch to the popular vote system, as do about half of Republicans (47%). Both of these shares have risen in recent years.

Engineers Develop Device That Turns Saltwater Into Freshwater Using Sunlight

MIT News -  What do you get when you combine the vastness of the ocean and the power of the sun? Drinkable freshwater that may be cheaper to produce than tap water. And it’s all thanks to engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, who developed a revolutionary solar-powered desalination system inspired by oceanic processes.

In a recent study, the researchers describe a passive device that takes in saltwater and uses natural sunlight to heat it. The unique design enables water to circulate in a way reminiscent of the ocean’s circulation, thus facilitating the evaporation of water and leaving salt behind. The resulting vapor is then “condensed and collected as pure, drinkable water,” while the remaining salt continues to flow to prevent clogging issues, per a press release from MIT.

“That means that, for the first time, it is possible for drinking water produced by sunlight to be cheaper than tap water,” explained co-author Yang Zhong. “This opens up the possibility for solar desalination to address real-world problems.”

If scaled to the size of a small suitcase, the solar desalination system could produce 4 to 6 liters of drinking water per hour and remain operational for several years before requiring replacement parts. The system’s affordability and adaptability also make it suitable for off-grid, coastal communities, presenting a promising solution to water scarcity.

Eleven years before the current crisis

 The current crisis in which show business and its leaders like Donald Trump have replaced the once standard principles of politics is not as new as it might seem. Here is something your editor wrote in 2012. Four years later, Trump would be elected president.

Sam Smith, 2012 - Having challenged the establishment my whole life, I’m feeling a little down right now. It is one thing to take on an elite revered by presidents, academics, media and the public for their illusion of wisdom and knowledge and quite another to find oneself in the ring with a mob of fools, prevaricators and pathological bullies whose only claim to fame is their claim to fame.

Allen Dulles has been replaced by Donald Trump, Katherine Graham by Sarah Palin, McGeorge Bundy by Lindsay Lohan. 

 To be sure, the old establishment was repeatedly cruel, hypocritical and wrong, witness the Harvard intellectuals who helped talk LBJ into entering and staying in Vietnam. But one could embarrass them, and with a strong enough anti-establishment convince the public that something was badly wrong. It was tough but – as the civil rights and peace movement discovered – you could win if you fought long enough.

 The current disestablishment, on the other hand, makes little sense and possesses less. It shuns rational thought, words or action. And it is encouraged by a media that is content to speak in the same meaningless abstractions created by lobbyists for political marketing purposes.

The real has been replaced by adjectives. Politics has become just another form of advertising. Which is why both major presidential candidates seem so removed from us. They move, speak and think in a way carefully designed to sell an image that will get them through one particular day. They are staged people being shown to voters like staged homes being shown for sale.

And presidential kitchen cabinets these days are not composed of establishment figures in law, politics and foreign affairs but of clever hustlers in the techniques of Madison Avenue – as well as those seeking to parlay public service into later private profits.

Sally Quinn  recently wrote: 

In April, at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, my husband, Ben Bradlee, and I found ourselves sandwiched between the Kardashians and Newt and Callista Gingrich. Heavily made up and smiling for the cameras, the reality TV family and the political couple were swarmed over by the paparazzi, who were screaming and shouting the celebrities’ names to make them look toward the cameras for that million-dollar photograph.

It was telling that Vanity Fair had bought more tables at the dinner than most of the Washington news organizations. 

On the way home … I suddenly realized that this grotesque event signaled the end of power as we have known it. That dinner — which seemed to have more celebrities, clients and advertisers than journalists and politicians — was the tipping point.

 Power in Washington used to be centered in the White House, the Congress, the Cabinet, the diplomatic corps and the journalists. Today, all of those groups depend on money for their very existence. The real power lies with the lobbyists, the money-raisers, the super PACs, the bundlers, the corporations and rich people. 

It is not that America should be run by a squad of snobbily sanctified, but that a country without respected voices outside the direct political game is too vulnerable to the whims of chameleons, card sharks and the stupid. This is America today.

Further, because rationality plays such a minor role in public thought, it is far more difficult to confront. It’s the difference between being just wrong and being plain crazy. And because so much of the country accepts the craziness as truth, it is much harder to fight.

September 29, 2023

Meanwhile. . .

California Fast Food Workers Secure $20 Minimum Wage—Highest In The U.S

Suspected Chinese government hackers who broke into the State Department’s email system earlier this year apparently stole nearly 60,000 emails from 10 employees, accessing travel plans and confidential discussions. (Read More)

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 7.31% yesterday, a 23-year high. (Read More)

The United Auto Workers Union is now asking for a 30% wage increase — a drop from 40% — as some workers plan further strikes. (Read More)

Black employees at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory were allegedly subjected to “severe or pervasive racial harassment,” including being called “lazy,” “smelly” and the N-word, according to a new lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. When the employees tried to report the incidents, they faced retaliation, the suit says. It’s the latest case in a growing set of complaints from employees of the company.  (Read More) 

Some iPhone 15 Pro owners say their new phones are overheating

690 New Words and Definitions Added to Merriam-Webster

Data on the Rise of Women Leaders

The history of government shutdowns and how long they last

Blue cities rethink liberal drug policies

Axios - Blue cities that have taken the most progressive — and often controversial — steps to tackle the nation's drug crisis are beginning to question those strategies amid rising political backlashPublic health experts emphasize policies that prioritize saving the lives of drug users — like so-called safe injection sites — but the worsening fentanyl problem is testing the patience of even the seemingly most tolerant cities.The Philadelphia City Council appears ready to override the mayor's veto of its ban on supervised consumption sites where people can take drugs under the watch of health workers. San Francisco Mayor London Breed proposed drug testing for welfare recipients this week.These cities are among those that embraced "harm reduction" measures, which attempt to thwart the harms of drug use rather than punish it..

Trump update

Messenger -  Former President Donald Trump has sought to discredit a New York judge’s blockbuster ruling threatening his business empire by arguing that Mar-a-Lago alone is worth more than a billion dollars. But less than three years ago, his tax representative told Palm Beach County officials that Trump “agrees” his private club in South Florida is worth just $26.6 million, according to records obtained by The Messenger.

Canada's hellish wildfire season

Axios - Canada's wildfire season, already the worst on record, went "completely off the rails" during the past week, scientists tell Axios, Andrew writes. Enough land area burned during the last week to make the seven-day-period comparable to nearly an entire typical fire season across Canada, according to Merritt Turetsky of the University of Colorado. Not only have the fires displaced tens of thousands of Canadians this summer, but they have also caused historically poor air quality in the U.S.  With hundreds of wildfires still burning, there is the potential for more air quality degradation in the U.S. through the fall.

September 28, 2023


Tristan  Snell - Problem for the Trumps Mar-a-Lago had a tax assessed value of $18-27 million. So if Mar-a-Lago is “worth a billion” as Eric Trump says — then the Trumps have committed major felony tax evasion, and they’ll go to prison. They should just stick with their civil fraud judgment.


 A Study Finds 'No Evidence' That Decriminalization Boosted Drug-Related Deaths in Oregon

Cannabis Overuse Linked To Heart Failure And Heart Attacks

Billionaires Have Gotten $2.2 Trillion Richer Since Trump-GOP Tax Cuts

They finally buried Mark Plotkin

Sam Smith - The noted DC media guy, activist and character Mark Plotkin has finally been buried four years after his death. Last year DC journalist Tom Sherwood described the delay this way:

Mark Plotkin, the impatient, pugilistic political commentator, died in September 2019. But three years later, most of Plotkin’s cremated ashes remain dumped inside a gallon-size Ziploc baggie stuffed into a plastic funeral urn. His final resting place is far from certain.

Though Mark and I had a long time relationship, it was also far from typical. For example, he opened an interview with me on the DC radio station WTOP this way:  "How do you respond to those who say you're just outrageous, off the wall, beyond normal?"

I responded saying that if you go back and read what I wrote ten, twenty or thirty years ago, it’s hard to see what the problem was. That’s the way Mark and I talked on the air.

For about a quarter century or so, Mark Plotkin and I would have occasional lunches with Eugene McCarthy. Plotkin had been McCarthy's campaign manager when he ran as an independent for president in 1976. During that campaign, while McCarthy and Plotkin were in Florida, Bill Veeck announced that he was reactivating Minnie Minoso for eight at-bats so he could claim to have played over four decades. Veeck was always coming up with ideas. Some weren't so great, like putting his players in short pants, but some became traditions like having the announcer sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch. When Chicagoan Plotkin read the Minoso story he quickly came up with another idea for Veeck: have him reactivate former Soo Leaguer Eugene McCarthy. Gene was excited and Plotkin made the call. Veeck had just one question: "Can he hit?" Plotkin assured him that McCarthy was a strong hitter. There was a long pause and then the reply, "Nah. . . Daley would kill me."

Why it has taken so long to bury Mark is described in another Tom Sherwood piece a year ago. It’s a complicated tale  but this will give you a sense of what what happened to the urn where his cremated ashes were put:

At Weisskopf’s house in Northwest, they decided they would open the urn. They wanted to spread some of the ashes at local sites here, especially the Rose Park tennis courts in Georgetown “where he loved to play tennis,” Weisskopf remembers.  But they couldn’t get the damn urn open, no matter how hard they tried. “The seal of the urn was some incredibly tight glue,” Friedberg recalls. Frustrated, they went out to the back alley of Weisskopf’s home. “I threw the thing from over my head to the pavement and shattered the urn,” Friedberg admits, “and we retrieved the ashes.” 

Even a few years after his death, Mark was still providing good stories.



Not just students who are missing school days

Chalkbeat-  It’s not just students who are missing school more frequently these days. In recent years, teachers have also been more likely to be absent. In New York City, 19% of teachers missed more than 10 days of school last year, compared to just 13% the year before the pandemic. There’s evidence that teacher absence rates have risen in other parts of the country, too. Teachers say there’s a number of reasons for this uptick. The obvious one is illness, including the COVID-19, flu, and RSV “tripledemic” from last winter. Relatedly, many educators are careful to stay home if they come down with even minor symptoms of illness.Then there are issues related to burnout, stress, and mental health, which can drive teachers to miss work. “We were just extra beaten down last year,” explained one Brooklyn teacher.


The World’s Population May Peak in Your Lifetime. What Happens Next?

Team Trump Prepares for Doom at New York Bank Fraud Trial

Daily Beast -  On the heels of yesterday’s critical court ruling ordering the death of the fabled Trump Organization, lawyers for Donald Trump appeared in court on Wednesday to pick up the pieces and make sense of how this can possibly get any worse for the former president. Huge sections of the Trump family’s real estate empire are having their business licenses revoked, and the Trumps are losing control of their companies to a court-appointed official. The trial set to start next week threatens to empty their bank accounts too... “Certain of the entities own physical assets, like 40 Wall Street and Trump Tower. Are those assets now going to be sold? Or managed under direction of the monitor?” 

Trump defense lawyer Christopher Kise asked the judge in court. After privately discussing the matter with his law clerk, the judge declined to make a final decision “right now.” But the judge made clear an independent person will play a role in determining the fate of this multibillion-dollar network of companies, giving both investigators and the Trump family extra time to jointly find an outside official who can oversee this while they’re wrested from the family’s control.

Astronaut Just Spent 371 Days in Space

This year's COVID vaccine rollout is off to a bumpy start, despite high demand