Welcome to Situational Awareness, a weekly roundup of news from last week that will likely be causing sleepless nights in the future.
GET OUT THE WALLET: The ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continued last week with more tantalizing non-news — search teams no longer hear the “pings” that caused them to focus on a certain Indian Ocean area; word arrived that the plane’s co-pilot may have attempted a cell phone call shortly before contact was lost; and an underwater search using a torpedo-shaped searching device began.
All of these bad signs come as the Malaysian government has started to talk to passenger relatives about compensation for their unfortunate losses. So far, it’s lowball city — an offer of $5,000 per family, much below the standard set by a multilateral international treaty that makes minimum payments in the $183,000 range. But here’s the catch: if there’s negligence found, the amount of the payouts could be much higher. But here’s the second catch: compensation will likely be determined in part based on potential lost income. No problem for taxpayers in countries that keep strict tabs on income. Big problem for those who run small shops in countries where reporting income isn’t a priority. And don’t expect Malaysia to approve a high payout for a long time, which means that $5k in hand looks mighty tempting to some families.
PAPERS, PLEASE: The shell game over Ukraine continued last week with reports that authorities in the eastern town of Donetsk handed out leaflets asking Jews to register their presence and pay a tax, or lose their citizenship. The news was later declared a false propaganda effort designed to build opposition to the pro-Russian separatists in the east.
The scare was yet another step in the continued fracturing of the country. Several cities in the east have been taken over by pro-Russian militias who don’t support the new Ukrainian government. Who is behind these machinations, which threaten to have the Ukraine erupt into a civil war? The usual suspects: (1) Vladimir Putin; (2) the new Ukrainian government; (3) the US government; (4) the pilots of MH 370 (just seeing if you’re awake). An Easter gun battle between the pro-Russian militias and new Ukraine loyalists did not help the situation. Expect the US to add natural gas to the fire, a tactic designed to undercut Russian leverage over the new Ukrainian government.
CATTLE CALL: Speaking of armed militias: there are still a few cowboys who don’t like the federal government. Last week, they faced down the black ops team of the federal Bureau of Land Management, who were attempting to enforce a stiff fine for a family farmer, who allegedly allowed his cattle to graze on federal land, by confiscating his cattle. Wisely, the feds backed down against the armed posse that aimed to stop those varmints from taking the aggrieved rancher’s cattle. Some see the fed withdrawal as a tactic to merely disperse the opposition and swoop in later. Much discussion at Miss Kitty’s saloon is likely to follow.
EBOLA ON THE LOOSE: The deadly incurable virus has surfaced again in West Africa. But this time, it has appeared not in the back country, but in Conakry, a city of two million. As anyone who’s see a zombie movie can tell you, our interconnected world can quickly spread the disease to more populated areas, if someone from the Conakry region suddenly has an urge to visit Paris. So far, at least 112 people have died in Africa. The virus can only spread through direct contact at this time — but if it goes airborne, well… let’s hope you’ve been watching The Walking Dead for survival tips.
DING, DONG, THE MOON IS RED: Just like tours from Elton John and Cher, the hype over last week’s “blood moon” eclipse proved to be just a tease. As it turns out, you’ll be able to see it happen again three times in the next 18 months. So mark your calendars for October 8; April 4, 2015; and September 28, 2015. After that, the next one happens in 2032, unless a new album drops before that.
LOOKING THE OTHER WAY: The New York Police Department is getting to be like the Maytag repairman — they’ll just sit around and wait for something bad to happen. This week, a surveillance unit designed to keep track of potential Muslim terrorist activity was disbanded. Apparently, hurt feelings outweigh potential lives saved. In the meantime, please pass the donuts.
COACHELLA OPENS AND CLOSES: The music festival’s second weekend began last week with several issues: (1) Will Outkast redeem itself for its massive flop on the first weekend? (2) Which celebrity was paid the most to wear a brand in the backstage area, where few proles are allowed? (3) How many of the couples that met for the first time at the event will still be together by June?
TAXING NEWS: Although federal and state returns were due last Tuesday (presuming you didn’t ask for an extension), our nation actually works later into each year to satisfy all obligations on the federal, state, and local levels. The dates vary because of differing tax rates in cities and states. But the latest payers will be found in New Jersey and Connecticut, where the tax payers will have until May 9 to fork over to satisfy their masters, according to DC think tank The Tax Foundation.