Stormy Monday, 3/9/15

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StormyMondayMonday, the Department of Justice will begin notifying approximately a million federal workers of their eligibility to join a class action suit against the government for being forced to work without pay during the Republican-engineered shutdown in October 2013. Eligible employees will have 105 days to sign on; voters will have 610 days until the 2016 election to decide that throwing Republicans out of all federal offices is an urgent priority for the health of the nation.

By next weekend, or so, the United States will have again exhausted its ability to borrow money. Fear not, though. Mitch “Old Lightnin'” McConnell promised Face the Nation Sunday that “the debt ceiling will be handled over a period of months.” He added that “hopefully, it might carry some other important legislation that we can agree on in connection with it,” which, on Planet Mitch, presumably means the repeal of Obamacare or the gutting of Social Security. The White House has meanwhile implemented “emergency cash measures” to forestall a possible collision with the debt ceiling.

Speaking of dysfunctionality and debt, the Eurogroup convenes in Brussels tomorrow to “discuss next steps” related to debt assistance for Greece. Tensions ratcheted up considerably today with the threat by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis that Greece could hold an election or a referendum over what those “next steps” might entail.

Too bad Senator Inhofe won’t be in Fairbanks tomorrow for the competitive start of this year’s Iditarod. If he were, he’d learn that 350 dump-trucks’ worth of snow were needed to facilitate Saturday’s ceremonial start in Anchorage, where daytime temperatures flirted with 40 and the only thing falling from the late-winter sky was a thin rain.

Fires are still not totally extinguished following Thursday’s derailment of a crude-carrying BNSF train near Galena, Illinois. Ten more derailed cars remain to be cleared via a new temporary “haul road.” The railway says it anticipates the mainline to be back in operation Monday, which would clear the way – whew! – for the week’s usual 40 or 50 oil trains to run through the area. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/9/15

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Stormy Monday, 10/13/14

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StormyMondayLiberian nurses and physician’s assistants intend to go on strike Monday over insufficient hazard pay, an action that could deal a terrible setback to the country’s efforts to get on top of the Ebola epidemic. During a weekend tour of treatment facilities in Monrovia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf personally appealed to health care workers to stay on the job.

Now that a Texas health care worker, despite wearing protective gear, has tested positive for Ebola after “extensive contact” with victim Thomas Duncan before his death last Wednesday, the mainstream media can really get to work fanning the doomsday hysteria with even less regard for scientific accuracy or pesky fact-based caveats such as CDC Director Tom Frieden’s insistence that the new case resulted from “a breach in protocol.”

And if End Times Ebolamania doesn’t gain traction with the audience, at least the media has ISILW (Islamic State in, Like, Wherever) to fall back on. Sunday’s announcement by Defense Department officials that Turkey will make bases available to US and coalition forces conducting air strikes against Islamic State forces is sure to set off another wave of talking heads eager to explain how this move is a complete vindication of the President’s surefooted IS policy, or how it’s sad confirmation of a flailing, rudderless White House.

John McCain, meanwhile, is getting increasingly shrill in his calls for ground troops to be deployed against IS. Scoff if you must, but after destroying five planes himself, the Senator is at least something of an expert on aircraft vulnerability.

You’ll be happy (or maybe not) to hear that Dr. Brian Monahan, attending physician of Congress, posted a reassuring eight-minute video on an internal website last week, explaining special protocols developed to ensure that even in the event of a catastrophic epidemic affecting huge numbers of Americans, Congress will be able, disease-free, to continue doing not much of anything. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/13/14

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Jihadists Must Be Forcefully Countered

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SyrianJihadisI believe jihadists must be forcefully countered. Forcefully does not always mean “with force,” but sometimes it does mean that, and I believe the use of force is an important aspect of countering jihadists now. I have always resisted the use of force, essentially by anyone anywhere. But there are always exceptions to that for me, though rarely, if ever, at the full scale of war.

Not all jihadists are the same, obviously, but a virulent strain has been growing at the fringes of Islam. Even Al Qaeda as we knew it was not as extreme as ISIS or Boko Haram have become. Bin Laden initially fought against the Russians for invading Afghanistan, and he first turned his sights on America because we established military bases in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s most sacred sites. Al Qaeda justified terrorism using convoluted religious arguments, but it did not call for the death of “non-believers” precisely because they were “non-believers.” That is the trajectory the most extreme jihadists are on now. They are seeking a holy war because they see holy war as intrinsically desirable in order to spread their own version of their faith.

It is an ideology/theology that sanctions genocide as a morally justifiable, virtually required, means towards their end. It is an ideology/theology that embraces literal slavery as an institution to practice and spread in the name of God. And they are gaining momentum, territory and adherents. They represent a brutal expansionist force more akin to naked colonialism as it was practiced from the 16th into the early 20th centuries than to more traditional organized Islamist movements such as Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. It is more like an early stage of Germany’s Third Reich, with a potent, virulent belief system that openly justifies the most barbaric acts against those to whom it does not assign basic human rights or dignity on a mass level. Like with hardcore Stalinism, the end will justify any means, and those beliefs are enshrined at the highest level of the movement, openly and proudly. In their version of reality, it is immoral not to act in that way.

That level of moral sanction given to inhuman behavior, that extreme a black-and-white worldview, without inconvenient moral ambiguities clouding the certainty of judgement, can be deceptively potent if not forcefully challenged head on. Continue reading Jihadists Must Be Forcefully Countered

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Stormy Monday, 9/15/14

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StormyMondayFresh from hastily scheduled trips to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, John Kerry begins the week in Cairo, where the Secretary of State hopes to get more countries onside with efforts to fight Islamic State extremists. In case Kerry doesn’t get his fill of truculence, skepticism and outright intransigence overseas, he has a backup plan: he’s returning to Washington to testify Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The President will be in Atlanta Tuesday for a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he’ll receive a detailed briefing on both the West African Ebola epidemic and the enterovirus-related respiratory disease outbreak in the US Midwest. The visit comes several days after a direct appeal for US assistance from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Watch for Republican demands this week that both viruses be bombed into submission and the operation paid for with a Social Security benefits clawback.

Thursday, Scots go to the polls for a historic vote on independence from the United Kingdom. Well over four million people have registered to vote, while another 800,000 or so have signed up to vote by mail. That represents roughly 97% of eligible voters, a percentage the Democratic and Republican Parties alike can only view wistfully just weeks ahead of the typically anemic midterm electoral turnout stateside. Recent polls suggest momentum building for the “No” faction, but it’s likely to be close whichever way it goes.

Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi holds its, uh, long-awaited first hearing. Think they’ll discuss the August 1 report by the House Intelligence Committee, which found absolutely zero malfeasance by the Obama Administration? Neither do I.

Timed to coincide with a UN summit on climate change, a huge march in Manhattan is planned for Sunday. Organizers of the People’s Climate March are aiming for a turnout of 100,000 or more. The following day, the sixth annual Climate Week NYC gets underway, with scores of events planned around the city. The climate may be screwed, but I hope at least the weather is nice for the march.

On a related note, new efficiency standards for refrigerators begin Monday, amid cheerful forecasts by the Department of Energy that post-regulation models will use about 25% less electricity than existing models, with a projected 30-year savings to consumers of $36 billion. No word yet on whether the new models can be readily converted into seaworthy craft to deal with rising ocean levels. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/15/14

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