Sunday, January 25, 2015

Seeing Through the State of Delusion

"27 Facts That Show How The Middle Class Has Fared Under 6 Years Of Barack Obama" by Michael Snyder, January 18th, 2015

During his State of the Union speech on Tuesday evening, Barack Obama is going to promise to make life better for middle class families.  Of course he has also promised to do this during all of his other State of the Union addresses, but apparently he still believes that there are people out there that are buying what he is selling.  Each January, he gets up there and tells us how the economy is “turning around” and to believe that much brighter days are right around the corner.  And yet things just continue to get even worse for the middle class.  The numbers that you are about to see will not be included in Obama’s State of the Union speech.  They don’t fit the “narrative” that Obama is trying to sell to the American people.  But all of these statistics are accurate.  They paint a picture of a middle class that is dying.  Yes, the decline of the U.S. middle class is a phenomenon that has been playing out for decades.  But without a doubt, our troubles have accelerated during the Obama years.  When it comes to economics, he is completely and utterly clueless, and the policies that he has implemented are eating away at the foundations of our economy like a cancer.  The following are 27 facts that show how the middle class has fared under 6 years of Barack Obama…

#1 American families in the middle 20 percent of the income scale now earn less money than they did on the day when Barack Obama first entered the White House.

#2 American families in the middle 20 percent of the income scale have a lower net worth than they did on the day when Barack Obama first entered the White House.

#3 According to a Washington Post article published just a few days ago, more than 50 percent of the children in U.S. public schools now come from low income homes.  This is the first time that this has happened in at least 50 years.

#4 According to a Census Bureau report that was recently released, 65 percent of all children in the United States are living in a home that receives some form of aid from the federal government.

#5 In 2008, the total number of business closures exceeded the total number of businesses being created for the first time ever, and that has continued to happen every single year since then.

#6 In 2008, 53 percent of all Americans considered themselves to be “middle class”.  But by 2014, only 44 percent of all Americans still considered themselves to be “middle class”.

#7 In 2008, 25 percent of all Americans in the 18 to 29-year-old age bracket considered themselves to be “lower class”.  But in 2014, an astounding 49 percent of all Americans in that age range considered themselves to be “lower class”.

#8 Traditionally, owning a home has been one of the key indicators that you belong to the middle class.  So what does the fact that the rate of homeownership in America has been falling for seven years in a row say about the Obama years?

#9 According to a survey that was conducted last year, 52 percent of all Americans cannot even afford the house that they are living in right now.

#10 After accounting for inflation, median household income in the United States is 8 percent lower than it was when the last recession started in 2007.

#11 According to one recent survey, 62 percent of all Americans are currently living paycheck to paycheck.

#12 At this point, one out of every three adults in the United States has an unpaid debt that is “in collections“.

#13 When Barack Obama first set foot in the Oval Office, 60.6 percent of all working age Americans had a job.  Today, that number is sitting at only 59.2 percent…

Employment Population Ratio 2015

#14 While Barack Obama has been in the White House, the average duration of unemployment in the United States has risen from 19.8 weeks to 32.8 weeks.

#15 It is hard to believe, but an astounding 53 percent of all American workers make less than $30,000 a year.

#16 At the end of Barack Obama’s first year in office, our yearly trade deficit with China was 226 billion dollars.  Last year, it was more than 314 billion dollars.

#17 When Barack Obama was first elected, the U.S. debt to GDP ratio was under 70 percent.  Today, it is over 101 percent.

#18 The U.S. national debt is on pace to approximately double during the eight years of the Obama administration.  In other words, under Barack Obama the U.S. government will accumulate about as much debt as it did under all of the other presidents in U.S. history combined.

#19 According to the New York Times, the “typical American household” is now worth 36 percent less than it was worth a decade ago.

#20 The poverty rate in the United States has been at 15 percent or above for 3 consecutive years.  This is the first time that has happened since 1965.

#21 From 2009 through 2013, the U.S. government spent a whopping 3.7 trillion dollars on welfare programs.

#22 While Barack Obama has been in the White House, the number of Americans on food stamps has gone from 32 million to 46 million.

#23 Ten years ago, the number of women in the U.S. that had full-time jobs outnumbered the number of women in the U.S. on food stamps by more than a 2 to 1 margin.  But now the number of women in the U.S. on food stamps actually exceeds the number of women that have full-time jobs.

#24 One recent survey discovered that about 22 percent of all Americans have had to turn to a church food panty for assistance.

#25 An astounding 45 percent of all African-American children in the United States live in areas of “concentrated poverty”.

#26 40.9 percent of all children in the United States that are living with only one parent are living in poverty.

#27 According to a report that was released late last year by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless children in the United States has reached a new all-time record high of 2.5 million.

Unfortunately, this is just the beginning.

The incredibly foolish decisions that have been made by Obama, Congress and the Federal Reserve have brought us right to the precipice of another major financial crisis and another crippling economic downturn.

So as bad as the numbers that I just shared with you above are, the truth is that they are nothing compared to what is coming.

We are heading into the greatest economic crisis that any of us have ever seen, and it is going to shock the world.

I hope that you are getting ready.


He's right; the tone sounded the same.


"Retailers nationwide sold $616 billion worth of goods in November and December 2014, up 4 percent from the year before. It was a tick below expectations — the National Retail Federation predicted growth of 4.1 percent — and Massachusetts saw slower-than-national growth, with a survey of retailers here chalking up a 3.4 percent rise in sales compared with 2013. The shopping season was unusual for the way deals were rolled out before Black Friday, which smoothed consumption out and might have lowered sales for the Black Friday weekend."

The same day I was told it was a sluggish holiday season, and I suppose that is better than a di$mal one

Obama committed to financial reform, says Treasury Secretary Lew

Like what?

In speech, Obama will urge higher taxes for wealthiest

He's delusional, right? 

"In the final two years of his presidency, Obama is shifting from trying to bolster a tepid recovery to promoting a vision for reshaping the US economy as it gains strength. He has made closing the income gap between the wealthiest Americans and middle- and lower-income workers a central theme.... 

President Obama Tuesday night outlined a robust agenda to guide his final two years in office, boldly claiming credit for a rebounding economy and confidently focusing on populist themes that aim to close the growing income-inequality gap and bolster the middle class. He said again and again how far America has come, from times of war and recession at the beginning of his term to a period where combat missions have ended and, he said, the economy has recovered. “The shadow of crisis has passed,” he said. “And the state of the union is strong” — as the Democratic president is seeking to secure a legacy as an economic populist while shaping the terms of the debate heading into the 2016 election."

Where was all this eight years ago when you had a filibuster-proof Congress? Whatta hack!

You want to read more? By my guest:

"President Obama on Thursday unveiled plans to greatly increase federal assistance to working Americans struggling to afford child care, choosing a Democratic pocket in a solidly Republican state to sharpen the contrast between the parties’ economic visions. Obama is engaging in a well-worn tradition of presidents taking their State of the Union themes out of Washington and around the country — but with a twist: to places controlled by Republicans. Lawrence is “this little blue dot in a red sea here,” said Burdett A. Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas. Kansas is also home to Koch Industries and ground zero for the conservative political empire of the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.... 

What was the carbon footprint of the public relations promotion?

A lot of people don’t have the luxury to see college as a place to “find yourself.” For them, college is primarily a means to one end — upward mobility. So when President Obama announced that he would propose making community college free for a lot of folks, I applauded the initiative. Then my pessimism set in. Given how sluggishly things happen in Congress — made worse by partisan politics — I don’t hold out much hope that the policy will come to pass. Already, critics are crying about the cost of the program, which is a legitimate concern, considering the federal deficit.....

Notice the war machine, Wall Street, well-connected corporations and concerns, and Israel never have such worries?

Questions about the initiative remain, including about how it would be funded when states could have to pay for roughly 25 percent of the cost." 

That's a non-$tarter!

RelatedPresident Obama seeks to end tax breaks on 529 college savings plans

But he cares, kids.

"Obama's call for higher taxes on the wealthy could further antagonize Republicans who are already angry with the president over his vows to veto several of the party's priorities, including legislation to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, make changes to the president's signature health care legislation and block his executive actions on immigration. Even before officials revealed Obama's tax proposals, Republicans were saying that his veto threats are a sign of a president who didn't get the message from voters who relegated his party to minority status in the November election."

Neither did you guys.

"Obama veto threats echo top D.C. issues" by Nancy Benac, Associated Press  January 24, 2015

WASHINGTON — President Obama has a telling legislative hit list.

The veto threats that he has issued over the last three weeks are a microcosm of American politics, representing the roiling issues of the day, the power struggle playing out between Congress and the White House, and even the pique between the president and GOP congressional leaders.



There’s a little bit of everything in Obama’s veto threats: the culture wars (abortion), energy policy (Keystone XL oil pipeline), health care (Obama’s program), foreign policy (Iran), economic angst (financial regulation), even wonky details of governance (rule-making processes).

Related: Privy to Your Health File

The list lays bare two competing visions of the proper role of government.

And while there’s plenty of political strategy behind what Obama has chosen to single out for a potential veto, he is also ‘‘really expressing what his values are and what he believes in,’’ says James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.

Likewise, Thurber says, for all the political positioning going on among congressional Republicans, they have advanced any number of bills in the face of certain veto because they believe in them.

Game or not, the odds of winning are in Obama’s favor. Presidents have prevailed on 96 percent of their more than 2,500 vetoes over the years, with Congress able to muster the votes to override just 4 percent of the time.

Of all the legislation subject to an Obama veto threat, a bipartisan effort to impose new sanctions on Iran to discourage its nuclear program may have the best chance of mustering the two-thirds vote needed to override a presidential veto. A vote on that could come as early as next month.

Related: Obama Looking For a Fight on Iran

Many of the other bills do not stand a chance. And Republicans know that going in.

Still, it is smart for Republicans to put forward their ideas to show a clear contrast with the president, says Dan Holler, communications director for the conservative Heritage Action for America.

Holler said it is also important to understand that any major legislation that has a chance of being enacted is going to be negotiated with the White House behind the scenes.

Both sides appear to be ‘‘frontloading’’ their agendas with confrontational matters to help set the stage for the 2016 elections, with the real work to find compromises to come later, said William Galston, a former Clinton official.

It's all a BIG GAME!


Also see:

Trade proposal, with rare reach, blurs party line 

Plenty of biparti$an$hip there!

I'm leaving the rest behind for you to read. Good night.

Sunday Globe Special: Fishing Around in Africa

What do they drink?

"Meant to Keep Malaria Out, Mosquito Nets Are Used to Haul Fish In" by JEFFREY GETTLEMANAN, January 24, 2015.

BANGWEULU WETLANDS, Zambia — Out here on the endless swamps, a harsh truth has been passed down from generation to generation: There is no fear but the fear of hunger.

With that always weighing on his mind, Mwewa Ndefi gets up at dawn, just as the first orange rays of sun are beginning to spear through the papyrus reeds, and starts to unclump a mosquito net.

Nets like his are widely considered a magic bullet against malaria — one of the cheapest and most effective ways to stop a disease that kills at least half a million Africans each year. But Mr. Ndefi and countless others are not using their mosquito nets as global health experts have intended.

Nobody in his hut, including his seven children, sleeps under a net at night. Instead, Mr. Ndefi has taken his family’s supply of anti-malaria nets and sewn them together into a gigantic sieve that he uses to drag the bottom of the swamp ponds, sweeping up all sorts of life: baby catfish, banded tilapia, tiny mouthbrooders, orange fish eggs, water bugs and the occasional green frog.

“I know it’s not right,” Mr. Ndefi said, “but without these nets, we wouldn’t eat.”

Across Africa, from the mud flats of Nigeria to the coral reefs off Mozambique, mosquito-net fishing is a growing problem, an unintended consequence of one of the biggest and most celebrated public health campaigns in recent years.

The nets have helped save millions of lives, but scientists worry about the collateral damage: Africa’s fish.

Part of the concern is the scale. Mosquito nets are now a billion-dollar industry, with hundreds of millions of insecticide-treated nets passed out in recent years, and many more on their way.


They arrive by the truckload in poor, waterside communities where people have been trying to scrape by with substandard fishing gear for as long as anyone can remember. All of a sudden, there are light, soft, surprisingly strong nets — for free. Many people said it would be foolish not to use them for fishing.

“The nets go straight out of the bag into the sea,” said Isabel Marques da Silva, a marine biologist at Universidade LĂșrio in Mozambique. “That’s why the incidence for malaria here is so high. The people don’t use the mosquito nets for mosquitoes. They use them to fish.”

But the unsparing mesh, with holes smaller than mosquitoes, traps much more life than traditional fishing nets do. Scientists say that could imperil already stressed fish populations, a critical food source for millions of the world’s poorest people.

Scientists are hardly the only ones alarmed. Fistfights are breaking out on the beaches of Madagascar between fishermen who fear that the nets will ruin their livelihoods, and those who say they will starve without them. Congolese officials have snatched and burned the nets, and in August, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, threatened to jail anyone fishing with a mosquito net.

Many of these insecticide-treated nets are dragged through the same lakes and rivers people drink from, raising concerns about toxins. One of the most common insecticides used by the mosquito net industry is permethrin, which the United States Environmental Protection Agency says is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” when consumed orally. The E.P.A. also says permethrin is “highly toxic” to fish.

So if you eat the fish.... sigh.

The leading mosquito net manufacturers insist that their products are not dangerous. Still, many nets are labeled: “Do not wash in a lake or a river.”

Some labels go even further, warning people to pour any water used in washing a net into a hole in the ground, “away from home, animals and wells.”


Related: Ebola Reemerging

See: "In addition to its human toll, Ebola has hammered the economies of the three most affected West African nations. The World Health Organization said this week that tracking down every last case and ending the outbreak remains difficult."

At least they got a vaccine:

"Production of flu vaccines each year an uncertain process" by Brady Dennis, Washington Post  January 18, 2015

WASHINGTON — In early March, Dr. Robert Daum and other infectious-disease specialists from around the country will gather in a Silver Spring, Md., hotel to choose the influenza strains that vaccine makers should target for next year’s flu season.

It’s an annual medical guessing game of sorts, one backed by data but also plagued with uncertainty. And when the guesses don’t exactly match the reality, as happened this past year, it can mean a dismal and deadly flu season.

Related: New Flu


As it does each year, the group will pore over surveillance information from around the globe, hear presentations from government researchers, and weigh recommendations from the World Health Organization.

The specialists will cast their votes for the four specific flu strains — two each from the ‘‘A’’ and ‘‘B’’ types of the virus — that manufacturers should focus on in making the coming season’s vaccine. Then, they will wait and hope.

Daum said he suspects he will leave feeling the way he so often has in the past — head hanging, discouraged, wishing there was a more reliable way to protect people from the yearly scourge of the flu.

Despite constant tracking and surveillance of the virus in labs across the world and the work of hundreds of specialists at universities, the WHO and agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), picking the correct flu strains still involves a measure of good fortune. Every few years, specialists miss the mark....


Such viral drift has been a persistent problem over the years, although less devastating than the ‘‘antigenic shift’’ that occasionally occurs, creating an entirely new strain that leaves much of the population largely defenseless. That’s what led to the 2009 flu pandemic. 

The infamous swine flu $windle.

Still, this flu season has officially crossed into epidemic territory and could prove particularly severe; the CDC said recently that 43 states are experiencing ‘‘high or widespread’’ flu activity, with a growing number of hospitalizations and deaths. And the worst could lie ahead.

A big part of the challenge each year is timing.

Vaccine manufacturers face a constant race to create and churn out enough doses to distribute throughout the country ahead of the annual flu season.

‘‘It can’t just be done overnight,’’ said Dr. David Greenberg, vice president and chief medical officer at Sanofi Pasteur, which produces about 65 million doses of flu vaccine each year. ‘‘It’s a very busy process.’’

Every February, the WHO identifies which strains in the Northern Hemisphere are most likely to wreak havoc the following flu season; the FDA’s recommendations, which historically align with the WHO’s, come soon afterward.

After that, drugmakers develop formulations for each strain, and regulators ensure vaccines from numerous manufacturers are safe and similarly potent. ‘‘Standardization is critical,’’ said Jerry Weir, director of the FDA’s Division of Viral Products.

Manufacturers also must produce and package millions of doses and distribute them to physicians’ offices and pharmacies in time for vaccinations to begin in the fall, ahead of the flu season.

The perpetually tight timetable forces specialists to make choices about the next flu season even before the current one has faded. It’s an educated guess, for sure, that includes data about which strains have dominated in recent years and which are picking up in the Southern Hemisphere and likely to migrate north.

But roll up your sleeve.

But until better predictive models, universal flu vaccines or significantly faster manufacturing come along, the guesswork remains. So does the frustration when the call is wrong.

And the deaths resulting from it!


Well, that is really deflating.

Bill Belichick ‘100 percent’ sure Patriots met NFL rules

Nobody comes up roses in latest NFL fiasco

‘Deflategate’ leaves Patriots fans undeterred

That rally is okay.

Sunday Globe Special: Can't Forget Nigeria

Related: Forget Nigeria

"Boko Haram makes ruthless push in Nigeria; Rifts between US, Nigeria impeding fight against terror group" by Helene Cooper, New York Times  January 25, 2015

WASHINGTON — Relations between US military trainers and specialists advising the Nigerian military in the fight against Boko Haram are so strained that the Pentagon often bypasses the Nigerians altogether, choosing to work instead with security officials in the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, according to defense officials and diplomats.


U.S. aiding Boko Haram allies in CAR U.s. Special Forces deployed by the Obama administration to the Central African Republic have been assisting Islamist guerrilla allies of the Nigeria-based Islamist caliphate led by Boko Haram. The recent surrender to U.S forces in the Central African Republic of Ugandan Lords Resistance Army (LRA) senior commander Dominic Ongwen, known as the "White Ant," was part of a joint U.S.-United Nations integrated stabilization force (MINUSCA) mission targeting both exiled Ugandan LRA and CAR "anti-balaka" guerrillas who have jointly been fighting against Muslim extremist Selena guerrillas. Selena previously, with Saudi support, attempted to establish an Islamic state in the CAR. Islamist Selena forces, operating in the same manner as Boko Haram terrorists in northern Nigeria and Cameroon, which lie to the west of the CAR, terrorized Cars Christians by attacking their villages with guns and machetes. The Christians organized the anti-balaka movement (balaka means machete) to defend against Islamist attacks. The Selena alliance was supported by the president they installed in the capital of Bangui, Michel Djotodia. After Djotodia was forced from power by the African Union, the UN MINUSCA forces, drawn from Ugandan and Cameroonian, among other forces, began to target the Christian anti-balaka forces. U.s. Special Forces have backed MINUSCA in its efforts. This collaboration not only led to the capture and surrender of LRA commander Ongwen but also anti-balaka General Rodrigue Ngaibona, also known by his nom de guerre, "General Andilo." Both Ogwen and Andilo have been transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Although U.S. forces have targeted the leadership of the manly Christian LRA and anti-balaka, they has refrained from attempting to capture leaders of Boko Haram, which have taken advantage of Cameroonian military intervention in the CAR, to launch attacks against Cameroonian villages and military bases on the Nigerian border. Boko Haram is believed to have allies in Chad, from which the CAR Selena guerrillas also receive support. Boko Haram has announced that it intends to expand its caliphate into Cameroon, Niger, Chad, and the CAR. Meanwhile, U.S. troops are pursuing anti-balaka and LRA forces which could serve as a bulwark aganst encroaching Boko Haram forces. While MINUSCA and their U.S. Special Forces overseers have concentrated on attacking the Christian anti-balaka, who are armed only with old hunting rifles, magical amulets said to protect them, and poison arrows, Boko Haram, which has proclaimed an alliance with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) caliphate and another caliphate established in eastern Libya, has massacred at least 2000 in recent atatcks in northern Nigeria and taken several Christian girls captive as slaves. Abubakr Shekau has emerged as the leader of Boko Haram, but unlike the Christian LRA and anti-balaka leadership, Shekau is not being chased by U.S. Special Forces. Although the film "American Sniper" has engendered all sorts of anti-Muslim feelings among American theater goers, in central Africa, U.S. Special Operations forces fight to protect the most radical of Islamist guerrillas, something that may come as a surprise to the Fox News types who have lauded "American Sniper" it's the main character sharpshooter, Chris Kyle.


Also see: 

Global court takes custody of Uganda rebel leader
LRA Rebel, Set for War Crimes Trial, Was a Child Soldier
United States Has No Understanding For Uganda 

You won't get it reading a Globe, that's for sure.

Major rifts like these between the Nigerian and US militaries have been hampering the fight against Boko Haram militants as they charge through northern Nigeria, razing villages, abducting children, and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee.


Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to travel to Nigeria on Sunday to meet with the candidates in Nigeria’s presidential elections, and the Pentagon says the Nigerian army is still an important ally in the region — vital to checking Boko Haram before it transforms into a larger, and possibly more transnational, threat.

So is their oil.

“In some respects, they look like ISIL two years ago,” Michael G. Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told the Atlantic Council last week, using another name for the militant group known as the Islamic State. “How fast their trajectory can go up is something we’re paying a lot of attention to. But certainly in their area, they’re wreaking a lot of destruction.”

But US officials are wary of the Nigerian military as well, citing corruption and sweeping human rights abuses by its soldiers. US officials are hesitant to share intelligence with the Nigerian military because they contend it has been infiltrated by Boko Haram, an accusation that has prompted indignation from Nigeria.

What are they hiding?

“We don’t have a foundation for what I would call a good partnership right now,” said a senior military official with the US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “We want a relationship based on trust, but you have to be able to see yourself. And they’re in denial.”

Would you trust the United States?

The United States was so concerned about Boko Haram infiltration that US officials have not included raw data in intelligence they have provided Nigeria, worried that their sources would be compromised.

In retaliation, Nigeria in December canceled the last stage of US training of a newly created Nigerian army battalion. There has been no resumption of the training since then.

Some Nigerian officials expressed dismay that relations between the two militaries have frayed to this point.

“For a small country like Chad, or Cameroon, to come to assist” the Americans, “that is disappointing,” said Ahmed Zanna, a senator from Nigeria’s north. “You have a very good and reliable ally, and you are running away from them,” he said, faulting the Nigerian government. “It is terrible. I pray for a change of government.”

The tensions have been mounting for years. In their battle against Boko Haram, Nigerian troops have rounded up and killed young men in northern cities indiscriminately, rampaged through neighborhoods, and, according to witnesses and local officials, killed scores of civilians in a retaliatory massacre in a village in 2013.

But they are a vital ally.

All the while, Boko Haram has continued its ruthless push through Nigeria, bombing schools and markets, torching thousands of buildings and homes, and kidnapping hundreds of people.


Sunday Globe Special: The Full Spectra of Pipelines

"West Roxbury gas pipeline proposal draws fire" by Meghan E. Irons, Globe Staff  January 18, 2015

Dynamite explodes inside a massive West Roxbury quarry many times each week, rattling plates in nearby homes and jarring nerves in this far-flung section of the city.

But now, neighbors say they have something new to fear.

A Houston energy company is planning to build a $1 billion natural gas pipeline through the neighborhood along with a gas pressure regulating station across from the quarry. Residents fear the underground transmission pipeline could one day rupture because of relentless blasting at the quarry, causing catastrophic harm to families, schools, and a nursing home nearby.

“People are scared,’’ West Roxbury resident Rickie Harvey said. “Residents do not have any assurances that this is safe.”

Spectra Energy Corp., the Fortune 500 company planning the West Roxbury pipeline, said it has a clean safety record. The pipeline would be designed, constructed, and maintained to meet federal guidelines and would not interfere with the safe operations of the quarry, the company said.

Spectra has not had a safety violation involving death or injury since 2006, but has amassed more than $350,000 in fines for failure to inspect transmission lines, according to recent data from the US Department of Transportation, which has a unit that regulates pipeline safety.

“Spectra Energy has been operating safely in the New England region for more than 60 years,’’ company spokeswoman Marylee Hanley said.

The West Roxbury gas line issue, simmering for two years, has gained steam recently and pits residents against one of North America’s largest pipeline companies, whose customers include NStar and National Grid. It has also generated broad — and uniformly negativeresponses from the political class, with Boston’s mayor, a US representative, and officials from at least one other community rallying against the pipeline.

RelatedFederal agency looks favorably on gas pipeline into Boston

The burst of opposition comes as Spectra nears the end of a lengthy application process aimed at securing crucial federal approval for the planned gas route into West Roxbury, which is being built at the request of National Grid as it struggles to satisfy surging demand for natural gas.

National Grid said it needs to increase the volume of gas it delivers to West Roxbury residential and business customers who have endured outages and hiccups in service.

“Ninety-eight percent of the residents and businesses in West Roxbury have natural gas, so there is a tremendous demand,’’ National Grid spokesman David Graves said. “The problem is there is not enough transmission pipeline capacity coming into New England to meet the demand.”

To meet the needs of National Grid, Spectra proposed building a connection to its massive Algonquin Incremental Market Project, a 1,127-mile natural gas pipeline that runs from New Jersey through New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

The proposed 5.1-mile spur into Boston would snake underground from near a golf course in Westwood, passing Legacy Place shopping center and a soccer field in Dedham, and winding under densely packed areas along Washington, Centre, and Grove streets in West Roxbury — where it would connect into National Grid’s existing gas lines.

Spectra has held open houses and public information meetings on the pipeline since 2012. In 2013, the energy company acquired land from the quarry’s owners, West Roxbury Crushed Stone Co., on a patch of Grove Street outside the pit, where trucks rumble in and out, and blasts are common.

The energy company intends to build a metering and regulating station on undeveloped land outside the quarry’s entrance on Grove Street.

After quietly sailing through a public notification process, Spectra formally applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last February for approval for the new line, called the West Roxbury Lateral Alternative Route.

The regulatory commission released a draft environmental impact statement on the project in August, and a final version is expected in January. A decision on whether to authorize the pipeline is not expected until the spring. If approved, the pipeline extension would begin operating by 2016.

Some West Roxbury residents active in neighborhood and environmental issues said they did not know about the pipeline until late in the process and were stunned it had been proposed.

“I was shocked to find out it was actually being placed next to an active blasting quarry,” said John St. Amand, president of the Charles River/Spring Valley Neighborhood Association. “There was no proper discussion for the residents of West Roxbury.”

Others, including Harvey, who runs the environmental group West Roxbury Saves Energy, have been demanding that Spectra answer safety questions, including what precautions will be taken to avoid an explosion along the line. She said she is still waiting for answers.

The draft environmental statement notes some safety risks associated with the project, but declared they were not significant. Federal regulators analyzed the schedule and logistics associated with having construction and operations existing so close to the quarry and found “no direct conflicts” that would inhibit the project or continued operation of the quarry, the document said.

Spectra retained consultants at GeoEnvironmental Inc. to analyze the potential effects on the proposed project from quarry blasting, including ground vibrations, air vibrations, hydrogeologic disturbance, and projectiles such as flying rock.

Spectra said it would bury the pipeline about 5 feet underground. Its pipeline would be coated with high-strength steel and enveloped in either compacted sand or a low density concrete-sand mixture to support the pipe and serve as a barrier from any problems.

In recent years, Spectra has faced a series of warnings and threats of lawsuits from the US office that regulates pipeline safety. In 2010 and 2011, documents show, the company’s Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC paid $154,700 in fines for failing to inspect transmission line valves, retain records of internal corrosion inspections for five years, and check pressure regulating stations.

Spectra’s Texas Eastern Transmission LP company has been fined $361,900 since 2006 for inspection violations, including lack of corrosion control and maintenance, federal documents show.

Spectra has addressed problems identified by the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and takes the agency’s recommendations “very seriously,” the company spokeswoman said.

Since learning of the proposed West Roxbury spur, residents have been pushing elected officials, including Mayor Martin J. Walsh, to take action. Groups such as the Committee to Stop the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline have formed to fight it. And in Dedham, selectmen voted 5 to 0 to oppose it.

“This presents a small, but real, catastrophic risk,’’ said Dr. Dennis J. Teehan Jr., one of the selectmen. “People need to understand that whatever gets built there is going to be there for decades.”

Joseph M. Lovett, a West Virginia environmental lawyer, said residents have clear reason to be concerned.

“The opportunity for accidents will always be there,’’ Lovett said. “Natural gas lines fail all over the country.”

US Representative Stephen F. Lynch has written letters to the chairwoman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, citing “grave concerns” about the project. Walsh and Boston councilors have joined the opposition chorus.

Lynch said he met with Walsh staff members and Spectra officials, and urged the energy company to take a fresh look at the route.

Spectra officials “are ready to come back to meet with the elected officials to talk about some other options,’’ Lynch said recently. “That’s what I anticipate — some other configurations that might work.”

But Hanley, the Spectra spokeswoman, said the decision on the route is up to the regulatory commission, which has yet to decide. A spokeswoman said the commission will consider all input submitted to it. Hanley and a National Grid official contend that neither the pipeline nor the planned metering station next to the quarry pose any danger.

“We have metering stations all over our service territory,’’ said Graves. “I live near a gas metering station. I don’t ever recall a gas metering station that caused any harm to the public.”



"Meanwhile, natural gas prices — already elevated in Massachusetts because of pipeline constraints — have begun to creep upwards. Colder weather poses a risk to industries and large-scale users whose rates aren’t set in advance like residential customers, who can burn with abandon."

Looks like extortion to me.

Maybe if you plugged the leaks:

"Leaks in Boston area gas pipes exceed estimates" by David Abel, Globe Staff  January 22, 2015

The amount of methane leaking from natural gas pipelines, storage facilities, and other sources in the Boston area is as much as three times greater than previously estimated — a loss that contributes to the region’s high energy costs and adds potent greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, according to a new study by scientists at Harvard University.

The leaks would be enough to heat as many as 200,000 homes a year and are valued at $90 million a year, the authors said.

The study — the first of its kind to quantify methane emissions from natural gas leaks in an urban area — also suggests that regulators are substantially underestimating the amount of the nation’s methane emissions. Methane is 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, meaning small amounts of the heat-trapping gas can have a significant impact on global warming.

And yet the planet is still cooling with record cold!

“We were surprised to find that emissions are as high as they seem to be,” said Steven Wofsy, a lead author of the study and professor of atmospheric chemistry at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Once we understand where they come from, we can find ways to reduce them in a cost-effective way.”

The findings come after the Obama administration this month announced new regulations on the oil and gas industry that would cut methane emissions by up to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.

The scientists said the study suggests that state and national regulators should be doing more to curb methane emissions at the end of the pipelines. The administration’s plan focuses on reducing leaks that have come mainly from the drilling, production, and transportation of oil and gas wells related to hydraulic fracturing, which has sparked a boom in US energy over the past decade. 

First we were told that wasn't happening, and don't let this admission tarnish the agenda-pushing pre$$ narrative.

“The emissions in regions receiving natural gas need to be considered more seriously,” said Kathryn McKain, another lead author and graduate student at Harvard....

The answer, of course, is a carbon tax on you!


Related: Explosion in Springfield

"Cape residents protest NStar’s use of herbicides; Company’s decision to resume use of herbicides below power lines draws ire" by David Abel, Globe Staff  January 20, 2015

About two hours after NStar contractors spread a fine mist of chemicals to kill foliage beneath power lines near her farm on Cape Cod, Clare Bergh developed a migraine and began to notice a rash on her body. A friend on her property complained she could taste the chemicals in her mouth.

When Bergh testified about her experience shortly afterward to Harwich selectmen in October, the 52-year-old showed them pictures of red bumps all over her torso, arms, and legs.

“There was a disgusting, potent smell,” she said. “I don’t get rashes, unless I’m exposed to chemicals. It lasted three-and-a-half weeks.”

Bergh, neighbors, and local lawmakers have raised a raft of complaints and staged demonstrations in recent months to protest NStar’s resumption of spraying herbicides throughout Cape Cod after the company ended a four-year, self-imposed moratorium on the controversial method of controlling vegetation beneath its power lines.

NStar officials insist the state-sanctioned spraying is safe and say it is the most effective means of managing the growth of trees on their property, noting that overgrown vegetation is among the most common cause of electrical outages. They add that spraying is a common practice among utility companies around the country, and that it is regulated in Massachusetts by the state Department of Agricultural Resources.

Oh, well....


But opponents argue that the water supply on Cape Cod is uniquely vulnerable to the toxic chemicals, saying the sandy soil is porous and that their ground water is relatively easily contaminated by anything seeping below the surface.

Do you want power or water?

They have also complained that NStar has ignored their concerns, even after 15 towns on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard passed resolutions in recent years against the utility’s spraying program. The land beneath NStar’s power lines, however, isn’t subject to local regulations.

In a letter late last year to Governor Deval Patrick, state Senator Dan Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, wrote that he had “grave concern” about NStar’s vegetation control program. He said his constituents have complained that the company’s contractors have not notified abutters about spraying, have failed to abide by state rules, and have applied the herbicide where they shouldn’t. He urged the utility to halt spraying immediately.

“What they are doing, to me, is the height of corporate arrogance,” Wolf said in a telephone interview. “Nobody questions that we need to keep our power lines clear, but they are not willing to talk to us about alternative methods, like using saws.”

He added: “There are legitimate concerns that these chemicals could have a significant impact on our public health.”

Laura Kelley, director of Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer, a local advocacy group, said the risks from spraying are heightened on the Cape because nearly everyone gets drinking water from the same aquifer. Most communities in the state get their drinking water from reservoirs or rivers elsewhere. “Anything that is applied to the surface of this precious ground leaches into the water table, contaminating our drinking water,” she said.

She and others noted that the Cape has long struggled with pollution to its ground water from the dramatic rise in development and the lack of sufficient waste-disposal systems. The remnants of sewage from septic tanks of more than 200,000 full-time Cape residents have seeped into the ground water and polluted estuaries, bays, and other bodies of water from Bourne to Orleans.

“NStar’s cocktail of herbicides, with their unknown long-term side effects, has no place on Cape Cod with its fragile environment,” Kelley said.

State environmental officials said they are trying to address residents’ concerns.

“We have worked to improve communications between all parties,” said Amy Mahler, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

She said an investigation by the Department of Agricultural Resources into what caused Clare Bergh’s rash found no evidence of the chemicals on her property. Investigators concluded that her rash was more likely a reaction to the exhaust fumes from the machines used to spread the chemicals than to the herbicide mixture.


Bergh called the report’s conclusions preposterous. She said state investigators didn’t visit her property until more than three weeks after the spraying and that their sampling followed several significant rainstorms.

That is kind of what I thought when I read it.

She also said NStar violated state rules by spraying too close to her property and her water wells, and by not informing her in advance. She said the state had failed in its job to regulate the utility properly.

Success is the exception.

“I have used gas-powered blowers, trimmers, saws, mowers, and diesel tractors for over 35 years and have never developed any type of skin irritation resulting from exhaust fumes,” she said. “The skin inflammation, tingling of the tongue, and burning of the eye was the result of an allergic response to [the] chemicals.”

NStar officials said they had halted spraying on the Cape to try to assuage residents’ concerns while they sought to persuade them that their program is safe. They don’t apply the herbicides every year and maintained their property in more conventional ways during that time.

In October, a crew in Falmouth wearing large motorized contraptions buzzing on their backs and holding rifle-like tubes in their hands demonstrated how they applied the herbicide. They used a gauge to measure wind speed – they said they stop spraying if gusts exceed state limits – and aimed their mist blowers at the ground to limit dispersal of the chemicals in the air.

Bill Hayes, who oversees part of NStar’s herbicide program, said that mowing and clear cutting is a poor alternative to spraying, because it leaves roots intact and promotes the rapid re-sprouting of trees and plants. Herbicides allow the company to maintain low shrubs compatible with transmission lines and provide a suitable habitat for a range of wildlife.

After showing how the chemicals reduce the density of stems, Hayes said he understands why residents are concerned.

“We’ve heard them,” he said. “But we’re confident we’re using the best management practices.”

He said NStar plans to resume spraying on the Cape this year.


RelatedMore tests needed on Cape herbicide spraying

They are just scratching the surface.

So which way is the wind blowing?

"More doubt is cast on Cape Wind plan; Developer drops 2 land contracts" by David Abel, Globe Staff  January 24, 2015

The developer of Cape Wind has terminated contracts to buy land and facilities in Falmouth and Rhode Island, the latest sign that the $2.5 billion effort to become the nation’s first offshore wind farm may never produce a kilowatt of energy.

There is no wind.

The developer, which for more than a decade has sought to launch a project to build more than 100 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, was also suspended on Tuesday from participating in New England’s wholesale electricity markets by ISO New England, an independent company in
Holyoke that operates the region’s power grid.

The failure to make payments to preserve those contracts and to maintain its position with ISO New England comes 2½ weeks after the disclosure that National Grid and Northeast Utilities had terminated their contracts to buy power from Cape Wind, deals deemed critical to the project’s financial viability.

In the latest ominous sign for the project, officials at Cape Wind on Thursday acknowledged they stopped making payments on an agreement last July with the Rhode Island-based Quonset Development Corporation to lease 14 acres of land in North Kingstown, R.I., which was slated to become a staging and assembly area for the project.

“I can’t say why,” said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind.

Or won't.

He declined to comment further or answer other questions about the future of Cape Wind....


Yeah, pipelines are safest:

"Cancer-causing agent detected in water after pipeline spill" Associated Press  January 21, 2015

GLENDIVE, Mont. — A cancer-causing component of oil has been detected in the drinking water supply of an eastern Montana city just downstream from a crude oil spill that entered the Yellowstone River.

Elevated levels of benzene were found in water samples taken from a treatment plant that serves about 6,000 people in the agricultural community of Glendive near the North Dakota border, officials said.

Scientists from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the benzene levels are above those recommended for long-term consumption but don’t pose a short-term health hazard.

Like the CDC has a shred of credibility.

Truckloads of bottled water were coming in Tuesday and residents were warned not to drink or cook with water from their taps.

Some residents criticized the timing of the Monday advisory, which came more than two days after 50,000 gallons of oil spilled from a break in a 12-inch pipeline owned by Wyoming-based Bridger Pipeline Co.

Adding to the frustrations was uncertainty over how long the water warning will last and why company and government officials still don’t know how to remove crude trapped beneath the ice-covered Yellowstone River. 

Oh, f***! The Yellowstone River is frozen in this age of global warming?


"Mont. city awaits all clear on water" Associated Press  January 23, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. — Initial tests show water supplies in a Montana city show no sign of a cancer-causing element for the first time since they were contaminated by a weekend crude oil spill, a state official said Thursday, raising hopes that thousands of residents can soon start drinking from their taps.

I wouldn't.

Glendive’s water no longer shows elevated levels of benzene, a carcinogenic component of oil, in tests taken from fire hydrants, said Jeni Garcin with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

If a laboratory confirms the results, officials will ask the city’s 6,000 residents to flush their taps by running them for 10 minutes. After that, the water would be drinkable.

Residents have been told not to drink or cook with city water since Monday night, two days after 40,000 gallons of oil spilled from a pipeline about 6 miles upstream along the Yellowstone River.

They have been using bottled water trucked in by the pipeline owner, Bridger Pipeline.


Also see: Montana's Oil Boom 

Hope this doesn't hurt it.

Sunday Globe Special: Ranging Around This Post

"‘Free-range parenting’ case unleashes national debate" by Donna St. George and Brigid Schulte, Washington Post  January 25, 2015

WASHINGTON — Two days after the story of their children’s unsupervised walk home from a park became the latest flash point in an ongoing cultural debate about what constitutes responsible parenting, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv were still explaining their ‘‘old-fashioned’’ methods of child-rearing.

They eat dinner with their children. They enforce bedtimes, restrict screen times, and assign chores. They go to synagogue.


There is no denying it!


The idea of free-range children has been around since 2008, when New York journalist Lenore Skenazy set off a firestorm with a piece titled ‘‘Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone’’ and developed a following for pushing back against what many saw as an overinvolved ‘‘helicopter parent’’ culture.

Related: Snowplow Parents

Tis the season!

More than six years later, Skenazy is still pushing the conversation about giving children more freedom to experience the world.

She says many parents are terrified by an outsized perception of danger, driven partly by a constant beat of repetitive crime news that makes horrific events seem much more common than they are.


Related: The Other Hernandez Trial

That started the hysteria.

Federal statistics show that the violent crime rate has fallen dramatically from its peak in 1991 and is about what it was in the late 1960s but lower than in the early 1970s, when many more mothers were at home and children roamed freer.

In the past, children stayed out for hours, slept in backyard tents, and wandered their neighborhoods.

Mine (nostalgic sigh).

‘‘These are things we all did on our own, and now we don’t let our children do, and there is no real or rational reason except we’re fearful,’’ she said.

Blame the me$$anger!

The Meitiv family’s difficulties have stirred passionate and conflicted responses from parents, and sparked some intense digital debates.

At the center of the whirl are the Meitivs, believers in ‘‘free-range’’ parenting, with its ideas that children learn to be self-reliant by progressively testing limits, making choices, and roaming the world without hovering adults. Danielle Meitiv works as a climate-science consultant and Alexander Meitiv is a physicist at the National Institutes of Health....



Sunday Globe Special: Steel Cage of Gold

"Cage, not gilded, provides second act for Cash4Gold founder" by Megan Woolhouse, Globe Staff  January 18, 2015


When last we left Jeff Aronson, the meteoric rise of the company he founded, Cash4Gold, had ended in a spectacular crash, its assets liquidated for just pennies on the dollar after burning through millions in investors’ money.

But here he was at the Tsongas Center, perched by a steel cage, watching calmly as Desmond “The Predator” Green and Steven “Super” Siler exchanged kicks, body blows, and barrel-fisted punches in the featherweight division of a mixed-martial arts card. “It almost looks like ballet,” Aronson observed.

Aronson’s comparison of the brutal, almost-anything-goes sport to the graceful, disciplined dance is another example of a gift for hyperbole and promotion that made Cash4Gold a staple of late-night TV, pitched by faded celebrities such as the late Ed McMahon and rapper MC Hammer. Now Aronson has turned to ultimate, or cage, fighting, aiming to cash in on a business that has moved from the fringes of the sports world into the mainstream and onto network television.

A year ago, Aronson bought a majority stake in Titan Fighting Championship, a circuit that acts as a feeder to Ultimate Fighting Championship, a $3.5 billion enterprise that is led by former Boston bouncer Dana White and features the sport’s best fighters. Aronson’s business model is similar to that of minor league baseball teams, offering fans close-up looks at the stars of the future — and sometimes the past — at a fraction of the cost of the major leagues.


Aronson, 42, rose to prominence during the recession, when gold-trade-in businesses sprouted across the nation.

They are still out there.

Frightened investors poured money into gold, driving prices to new records, while desperate people sold jewelry and anything else that might contain gold. Many metal refiners tried to profit from these trends, but few made as big a splash as Cash4Gold.

Aronson founded the company on a simple concept: A person with unwanted gold placed it in a plastic bag, mailed it to Cash4Gold, and waited for a check in the amount of its assessed value.


The novelty was that it allowed cash-poor households to sell gold privately, without the stigma of going to a pawn shop.

Aronson attracted millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars from investors, including venture capitalists Joel Cutler of General Catalyst in Cambridge and Dan Nova of Highland Capital Partners, also in Cambridge. Cutler and Nova invested at least $15 million into the business. They did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2009, Cash4Gold spent more than $2 million on a Super Bowl advertisement featuring McMahon and Hammer, drawing in more customers. Yet a growing number of people that mailed gold to the company also became disappointed by the payoutsif they received them at all — and the Florida Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation.

Oh, I'm shocked.

Aronson ultimately shuttered his palm-tree-shrouded gold-melting facility, filing the equivalent of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida in 2012. A Virginia company, Direct Holdings Inc., bought what remained of Cash4Gold out of court receivership for $440,000.

Aronson also agreed to pay about $15,000 to some former customers as part of a settlement with the Florida Attorney General, but he did not admit any wrongdoing. He still denies that Cash4Gold did anything wrong.

Aronson does not like to talk about Cash4Gold but said its demise was brought on by a changing economy and too many Cash4Gold copycat stores. In a recent interview, he said he was happy to have moved on from the business, including its Boston-area venture investors....

Aronson has put himself in the center of a new world, one that values brashness and showmanship with raw toughness. Ultimate fighting combines boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, jiu jitsu, and other martial arts, set against bright lights, special effects, and scantily clad women.

It's a warrior culture.

In its early days more than two decades ago, the sport had few rules, with fighters often battling until one gave up or passed out. Ultimate fighting was illegal in most states.

Over the years, the sport has since limited the length of fights, standardized rounds, and added referees who can stop fights and judges who determine winners if they end without submissions or knock-outs. Ultimate fighting is legal in all but three states; Massachusetts legalized it in 2010.

The UFC picks elite fighters and sometimes pays them millions of dollars, raking in money from pay-per-view subscriptions, contracts with cable and network TV, and merchandise sales — everything from T-shirts to sunglasses to jewelry. Around this success have popped up smaller outfits, such as Aronson’s Titan FC, which signs aspiring fighters and UFC hopefuls, including many released from UFC contracts hoping to get back to the show.

Aronson bought a majority stake in Titan in early 2014 from its founder, Joe Kelly, with the strategy of bringing the circuit, which largely operated in Kansas, out of obscurity. This year, Titan offered eight events across the nation, including the one in Lowell, and inked a deal with CBS Sports Network for an undisclosed amount to air the fights.

While Ultimate Fighting Championship is by far the biggest promoter of the sport, several smaller ones have emerged, including Bellator MMA, based in California, and ONE Fighting Championship of Singapore, said Ken Pishna, managing editor of MMA Weekly, a trade magazine that follows the sport. Viacom, the media company that includes MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon, acquired a majority stake in Bellator in 2013 and began airing events on the Spike TV channel last year.

Titan operates just below that level, Pishna said, filling a potentially profitable niche as a feeder to the larger circuits. Aronson lets fighters out of their Titan contracts if the UFC calls them up, making him unusual among lower-level promoters but more attractive to top prospects.

“There’s a good market for that,” Pishna said. “The fighters need stops along the way to get to the UFC. Most fighters are happy fighting for Titan.”

Like most promoters, Aronson won’t disclose what he pays fighters or Titan’s revenues.

Aronson also owns a South Florida property management company called Arco, as well as night clubs in Costa Rica, where he lives half the year.

.   .   .

In Lowell on a recent Friday night, Titan sold about 1,500 tickets, filling only a portion of Tsongas Center. If Aronson has his way, more seats will be occupied and more viewers will tune in. “At this point, it’s more about building a brand than about profitability,” he said.

The atmosphere was supercharged with sweat, blood, and the occasional fan gone berserk....


Sunday Globe Special: Korean Brainwashing

Is it any different than the AmeriKan version?

"In Kim regime, brainwashing begins early, defectors say" by Anna Fifield, Washington Post  January 18, 2015

SEOUL — For North Korea’s dynastic Kim regime, citizens are never too young to be indoctrinated. Indeed, an all-encompassing personality cult has kept the country intact even as the Soviet Union collapsed, and as China and Cuba have opened up.

It's a celebrity cult(ure) over here.

With its pudgy leaders and their comical haircuts, its goose-stepping soldiers and its inventive turns of phrase, North Korea has provided endless opportunity for mockery, most recently with the controversial Hollywood film ‘‘The Interview.’’

Although critics have questioned its artistic merits and defectors have lamented the way it makes fun of North Koreans, the movie revolves around a central tenet of Kimist mythology: Its leaders are divine beings.

Here it is the institution of government that is the protector.

The crucial moment in the film is not the death of Kim Jong Un, the regime’s current leader, but earlier, when a talk show host interviews Kim and taps into his daddy issues, leading the young dictator to start blubbering, ‘‘I am strong,’’ revealing him to be not only human but insecure.

The personality cult that permeates every aspect of North Korean life has become an ideology in itself. It revolves around Kim Il Sung, portrayed as an anti-Japanese revolutionary hero and founding father who remains North Korea’s ‘‘eternal president’’ more than two decades after his death.

His son, Kim Jong Il, was, according to North Korean myth, born on a sacred mountain, under a bright star at night. (In reality, he was born in Siberia.) Since Kim Jong Il’s death in 2011, son Kim Jong Un has taken over the family business.

‘‘I believed in this system for more than 20 years, but I was so thirsty to find out about the outside world,’’ said Jeon, who lives in South Korea and works in an office. This precipitated her decision to sneak across the border to China. ‘‘Then, when I realized it was all lies, it was like I was just born at 23 years old. Twenty-three years had been stolen from my life.’’

I know very much the feeling.

In North Korea, there is no escaping the Kims. Every home, office, classroom, and even train car features portraits of the first two leaders, and the pictures must be cleaned with a special cloth every day.

North Koreans wear pins, usually of Kim Il Sung but sometimes of both Kim One and Kim Two, on their chests, close to their hearts.

Television sets and radios are fixed to state-run channels — being caught with an unfixed device, or worse, foreign DVDs, is a severe offense often leading to time at a labor camp — and there is no Internet.

Then how could they have done the hack? 

Although an increasing amount of information is seeping across the border from China, the state continues to have almost total control over the flow of information.

Do they collect it like ours?

After years of futile efforts to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, the international community is now focused on human rights violations in the country, and unprecedented attention is being paid to political imprisonment and executions.

Also see:

"Shin Dong Hyuk, the best-known survivor of a North Korean prison camp, said Sunday he was retracting central elements of his widely reported life story that has helped him win international human rights awards and become a star witness for the United Nations’ investigative report on North Korean human rights abuse. Based on the panel’s report, published last year, the United Nations adopted a resolution recommending that Kim Jong Un and other top North Korean leaders be sued for a “crime against humanity” at the International Criminal Court. But his credibility has been questioned by not only the North Korean government but also a number of human rights advocates and former North Korean political prison camp survivors living in South Korea."


RelatedUN human rights official questions US approach toward N. Korea

Is it because "we," you know, tortured?

More pervasive, but less obviously gruesome, is the way the regime brainwashes children from an early age to believe in the Kims as godlike leaders.

This indoctrination program has two basic goals, according to a groundbreaking 372-page report published last year by a United Nations commission of inquiry: to instill utmost loyalty and commitment toward the supreme leader, and to instill hostility and deep hatred toward the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

I'm looking at the entire media and educational apparatus around me my whole life and.... sigh.

The brainwashing starts in kindergarten.

Children’s books are not immune. Take ‘‘The Butterfly and the Cockerel,’’ a story about an irascible, bullying rooster (the United States) that is outwitted by a small, virtuous butterfly (North Korea).

Teachers don’t just teach history, they teach ‘‘revolutionary history.’’ And all music, storybooks, novels, and artwork relate to the Kims.

The UN report said that this indoctrination system amounted to a raft of human rights abuses, including violations of the freedoms of thought, expression and religion....

Don't you say that about my, 'er, their gov.... ern.... me.... nt.


While on brainwashing, there is the war propaganda that the "North may now have the ability to strike the US mainland because of its progress in missile technology [and] miniaturize nuclear warheads — although how far it has progressed remains a subject of debate."  

I implore you, readers; can you understand why I'm not up for the war games?

Also seeFormer Korean Air executive pleads not guilty in jet tantrum

Who is the nut?

Sunday Globe Special: Jagged Japanese Post

Really cut it down, I did:

Japanese hostage held by ISIS appears to be dead

Yeah, it would appear that way, although it smells like CIA and another in a long list of fakes.

Video: Islamic State group threatens to kill Japanese hostages

Jwho found the video?

"The SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that tracks jihadi propaganda, said the latest video, less than two minutes long, was produced by Al Furqan, an Islamic State media outlet."

God save us all.

Related: Lopping Lies to End the Evening 

I'm not done yet, but close.