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Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday August 19, 2014 8:32 pm


Tonight’s video is “How do you know you exist?” from TED-Ed.

How do you know you’re real? Is existence all just a big dream? Has some mad scientist duped us into simply believing that we exist? James Zucker investigates all of these questions (and more) in this mind-boggling tribute to René Descartes’s “Meditations on First Philosophy.”

Lesson by James Zucker, animation by Stretch Films, Inc.


Painting of a woman with her arms up. Don't Shoot, It's Right to Rebel!

But how does the rest of the world see Ferguson?

Readers could have been forgiven for thinking the headline came from The Onion:Egypt urges US restraint over Missouri unrest.” No it’s real news, but the Egyptian government is definitely having a laugh at our expense, especially since their statement echoes our own from last year.

Al Jazeera America took a broad look at how the world media is covering the uprising in Ferguson.

Russian and Iranian media have, perhaps unsurprisingly, printed scathing judgments about the police response to protests in Missouri. One Russian site, Svobodnaya Pressa, coined the term ‘Afromaidan,’ implying that the U.S. is getting a dose of its own medicine for backing anti-Russian Euromaidan rallies in Kiev, Ukraine. The article poked fun at the notion of a land of opportunity, signaling that America’s ‘race war’ proves Washington’s hypocrisy.

PressTV in Iran led with the Ferguson story on its website Monday. A news feature quoted an African-American historian referring to ‘institutionalized racism’ in the U.S. and calling the country a ‘human rights failed state.’ And Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Facebook page read Sunday: ‘Look at what they do to the black community in their own country … . The police may beat them to death over the crime of having dark skins!’

[...] German media site Deutsche Welle, meanwhile, highlighted similarities between minorities in Germany and the U.S. while publishing some commentary on the tone of American television broadcasts: ‘In the current U.S. media coverage of Michael Brown’s death, his photo is almost nowhere to be seen. Media reports are dominated by the images of burning suburban streets and a militarized police force – a visual language that suggests war rather than the tragic death of an unarmed young man shot by a police officer.’ Other German news portals are similarly critical, with scathing evaluations of America’s ‘postracist’ society, and of the quick deployment of weapons in Ferguson.

[...] In Turkey, the pro-government newspaper Takvim has treated the Ferguson unrest as it perceives U.S. media covered protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park last summer. A recent headline derisively referred to American officials as monkeys. An excerpt from the article read: ‘Units patrolling in armored vehicles caused terror. They beat up journalists who were taking photos and sent them to prison.’

Brazilian news site O Globo ran an article on Ferguson emphasizing how U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ‘appealed to U.S. authorities to ensure protection of the rights of demonstrators.’

And in closing:

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The Watercooler is an open conversation. Ask questions, share links and your thoughts.


Greater Israel: “I wanna be a super-power too!”

By: Jane Stillwater
Jewish protesters opposed to the siege of Gaza

“It’s not about religion. It is about grabbing power.”

Americans keep making the big mistake of thinking that Israel is a “Jewish state.”  Tel Aviv is no more Jewish than Washington, Moscow or Beijing are Jewish. It’s not about religion here, guys. It is about grabbing and holding onto power.

Sorry to bust your bubble here, but wearing a yarmulke does not make you Jewish any more than wearing a cross makes you Christian or getting up at sunrise makes you a Muslim. Actions always speak louder than words.

Israel’s leaders want to play hardball, not dreidels. Israel’s leaders are not interested in singing “Hava Nagila.” They are interested in singing “From the Nile to the Euphrates.”

In today’s big super-power competition, you have America; you have Russia; you have China. And you have Israel.

“But Jane,” you might ask, “how can that be? Israel is too small to compete!” Now it is. But those aren’t menorahs that Israel’s leaders are lighting these days. Those are missiles — deadly missiles. And those are nuclear weapons that they store in their cupboard, not candles.

And missiles can buy you a whole bunch of land.

And it’s not Hanukkah gelt that is buying all those missiles and nuclear weapons either. It’s American taxpayers’ money that is supporting our latest rival in the super-power game (pdf link).

And it’s not Shylock who is demanding a pound of flesh here either. It is Israel’s leaders. And it’s two pounds of flesh that they are demanding — one pound of flesh from the formerly Arab Middle East and one pound of flesh from America, “to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me.”

Screw all that talk about the Promised Land and the Ten Commandments. Israeli leaders are not looking to become rabbis. They are looking to make Israel the next United States.

“But how can they do that?” you might ask next. Easy. Just think of the Middle East as a chessboard and Israel’s leaders as master players who are trying to wipe that board clean and then take it home with them. Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran? All pawns. Even Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. That’s a hecka big chunk of land to make over into a super-power — and good land it is too. Arable. And with oil. And almost the size of the European Union. A very nice start.

Greater Israel. ”I wanna be a super-power too!” Hey, don’t we all.

Causes of War Krugman Overlooked

By: David Swanson Thursday June 16, 2011 12:12 pm
A head of brocolli

“If Iraq’s top export were broccoli there’d have been no 2003 war.”

While I’m working on a campaign to abolish war, it’s helpful and appreciated that a columnist for one of the most effective war promoting institutions in the world, the New York Times, on Sunday mused aloud about why in the world wars are still waged.

Paul Krugman rightly pointed to the destructive nature of wars even for their victors. He admirably presented the insights of Norman Angell who figured out that war didn’t pay economically over a century ago. But Krugman didn’t get much further than that, his one proposal to explain wars fought by wealthy nations being political gain for the war makers.

Robert Parry has pointed out the falsity of Krugman’s pretense that Vladimir Putin is the cause of trouble in Ukraine. One might also question Krugman’s claim that George W. Bush actually “won” his reelection in 2004, considering what went on in Ohio’s vote counting.

Yes, indeed, a great many fools will rally around any high official who wages war, and it’s good for Krugman to point that out. But it’s just plain bizarre for an economist to lament the cost (to the U.S.) of the U.S. war on Iraq as reaching possibly $1 trillion, and never notice that the United States spends roughly $1 trillion on preparations for war each and every year through basic routine military spending — itself economically destructive, as well as morally and physically destructive.

What drives the spending that Eisenhower warned would drive the wars? Profits, legalized bribery, and a culture that searches for the causes of war primarily among the 95 percent of humanity that invests dramatically less in war-making than the United States does.

Krugman dismisses economic gain as relevant only to poor nations’ internal wars, but doesn’t explain why U.S. wars concentrate in oil-rich areas. “I am saddened,” wrote Alan Greenspan, “that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” As Krugman is no doubt aware, rising oil prices are not lamented by everyone, and the high cost of weaponry is not a downside from the perspective of weapons makers. Wars don’t economically benefit societies, but they do enrich individuals. That same principle is central to explaining the U.S. government’s conduct on any area other than war; why should war be different?

No particular war, and certainly not the institution as a whole, has a single simple explanation. But it’s certainly true that if Iraq’s top export were broccoli there’d have been no 2003 war. It’s also possible that if war profiteering were illegal and prevented there’d have been no war. It’s also possible that if the U.S. culture didn’t reward war-making politicians, and/or the New York Times reported on war honestly, and/or Congress had made a habit of impeaching war-makers, and/or campaigns were publicly financed, and/or U.S. culture celebrated nonviolence rather than violence there’d have been no war. It’s also possible that if George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney and a few others were healthier psychologically there’d have been no war.

We should be wary of creating the assumption that there are always rational calculations behind wars. The fact that we can never quite find them is almost certainly not a failure of imagination, but a reluctance to recognize the irrational and evil behavior of our political officials.  Global domination, machismo, sadism, and lust for power contribute significantly to the discussions of war planners.

But what makes war common in certain societies and not others? Extensive research suggests that the answer has nothing to do with economic pressures or the natural environment or other impersonal forces. Rather the answer is cultural acceptance. A culture that accepts or celebrates war will have war. One that spurns war as absurd and barbaric will know peace.

If Krugman and his readers are beginning to think of war as a bit archaic, as something requiring an explanation, that can only be good news for the movement to abolish war making.

The next big leap might come sooner if we all try to see the world for a moment from the perspective of someone outside the United States. After all, the idea that the U.S. should not be bombing Iraq only sounds like a denial that there is a major crisis in Iraq requiring swift action, to people who suppose that crises require bombs to solve them — and most of those people, by some coincidence, seem to live in the United States.

William Astore: The Bomber Will Always Get Funded — and Used

By: Tom Engelhardt Friday July 22, 2011 1:01 pm
An air force bomber refueling

Bombing Iraq? Get used to it.

Bombing Iraq, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore indicates today, has become an American pastime.  (These days, you can’t be president without sending in the bombers and drones.)  So let’s try to get our heads around the latest U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq against the forces of the new “caliphate.”  It’s a campaign that President Obama has already indicated is likely to go on for months and may soon enough spread south to the Baghdad area.  It looks like Washington has finally created the perfect machine for the weapons industry.

Think of it this way: first Washington provides the Iraqi military with training and massive infusions of military equipment to the tune of $25 billion.  Next that military, faced with its first serious opposition, the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), numbering in the thousands against security forces in the hundreds of thousands, collapses.  In June, two full divisions, 30,000 Iraqi troops, flee the city of Mosul, abandoning their posts in the face of the advance of ISIS fighters.  In all, four divisions of the country’s 14-division army disintegrate throughout the north.  Left behind is a massive trove of U.S.-supplied weaponry, including 1,500 Humvees, 52 U.S.-made M198 howitzers, tankstrucks, rifles, and ammunition.

ISIS militants, who seem remarkably capable of operating such equipment without an American trainer or adviser in sight, then turn some of that weaponry (as well as weapons captured from the Syrian military) on U.S.-backed forces, including, in the north, Kurdish pesh merga militias.  (They have evidently even brought tanks into play near the Turkish border.)  To save its Kurdish allies from disaster, the Obama administration then sends in the U.S. Air Force (both fighter-bombers and Predator drones) in close support of the beleaguered Kurdish forces.  Doing what air power seems most capable of, the planes begin destroying the armored vehicles and artillery pieces ISIS has brought to bear in Kurdish areas.  In other words, U.S. air power is called in to take out U.S. military equipment (and anyone manning it).

To complete the circle, both the Iraqis defending Baghdad and the Kurds now desperately need new weaponry, and Washington is already starting to supply it in the north and soon undoubtedly in the south as well.  Can there be any question that this is a win-win situation for the American arms industry and the military-industrial complex?  It gives new meaning to American bombing campaigns that, since 1991, have proven to be disastrous regional destabilizers.  Think of this as an innovative profit center for American industry and a jobs-creation exercise of the first order: we provide the weapons, we destroy them, then we provide more.

Given what William Astore calls the American “cult” of bombing and its remarkable futility in policy terms, this is a significant development.  And don’t for a second think that it’s a one-of-a-kind situation. After all, Washington has put at least $50 billion in weaponry and training into Afghanistan’s security forces. So the future is bright. Tom

The American Cult of Bombing
Why You Should Expect More Bombs to be Dropped Everywhere
By William J. Astore

When you do something again and again, placing great faith in it, investing enormous amounts of money in it, only to see indifferent or even negative results, you wouldn’t be entirely surprised if a neutral observer questioned your sanity or asked you if you were part of some cult.  Yet few Americans question the sanity or cult-like behavior of American presidents as they continue to seek solutions to complex issues by bombing Iraq (as well as numerous other countries across the globe).

Poor Iraq. From Operation Desert Shield/Storm under George H.W. Bush to enforcing no-fly zones under Bill Clinton to Operation Iraqi Freedom under George W. Bush to the latest “humanitarian” bombing under Barack Obama, the one constant is American bombs bursting in Iraqi desert air.  Yet despite this bombing — or rather in part because of it — Iraq is a devastated and destabilized country, slowly falling apart at seams that have been unraveling under almost a quarter-century of steady, at times relentless, pounding.  “Shock and awe,” anyone?

Breaking with Tradition in Wisconsin: What it All Means

By: WI Budget Project Monday August 18, 2014 12:24 pm
The underside of the Wisconsin Capitol Dome

Legislators are making life harder for Wisconsin families.

Over the past week, the Wisconsin Budget Project has highlighted a piece each day from our larger publication Breaking with Tradition: How Wisconsin Lawmakers Have Shortchanged a Legacy of Investment in the State’s Future. You can access the full report on our website. This is the conclusion to the report.

Breaking with Tradition in Wisconsin

Over the last three and a half years elected officials have made dramatic changes to how Wisconsin supports its schools, communities and workforce. Lawmakers have reduced investments in public schools and higher education, despite the role education plays in individual financial success and building a strong economy. They have cut taxes for Wisconsin taxpayers with the highest incomes, but raised taxes on seniors with low incomes and on working families. They decided to provide health insurance to fewer people at higher cost. And lawmakers also made it harder to obtain important safety-net benefits like unemployment benefits and food stamps, during a period when families continue to struggle to emerge from the deepest recession in 80 years.

Lawmakers claimed that many of these changes would give the Wisconsin economy a boost and create jobs. But instead, job growth in Wisconsin has lagged both the region and the nation as a whole. We believe that these changes will have long-term negative effects on our state, that they are not in the best interests of our children and families, and that they are not in keeping with Wisconsin’s values of opportunity, responsibility, and community.

To construct a strong economy in Wisconsin, we need to create opportunities for everyone to thrive. Lawmakers should build on our long history of making the kind of investments in our schools and communities that create broad-based prosperity and help make Wisconsin a good place to do business and raise families. We should build on Wisconsin’s legacy of investing in the state’s future, rather than turning away from it.

You can access the rest of the report here.

Over Easy: The Mysterious Parisian Heist

By: yellowsnapdragon Friday May 13, 2011 7:26 am
A Mercedes parked by a prestigious Parisian hotel

Robbers stole valuables — and “sensitive documents” — from the Mercedes of a Saudi Prince.

Here’s an interesting story. Last Sunday, an anonymous Saudi Prince’s convoy was robbed en route to a Paris airport from a swanky, Saudi-owned luxury hotel. Police suspect the theft was a well planned, inside job because the stolen car appeared to be selected for its valuable contents.

The robbers, said to number between five and eight, seized the Mercedes and its three occupants – as well as €250,000 and what Le Parisien newspaper described as sensitive documents.

Soon afterwards the robbers released the hostages and abandoned the vehicle, which was found an hour later in Saint-Mesmes, a village in the Ile-de-France region north-east of Paris, along with one of the BMWs. Both vehicles were burnt out.

There have been several recent robberies in Paris targeting wealthy foreigners including another Saudi Royal in July and the daughter of the Mayor of Kiev in 2010. Six million dollars in jewels were stolen in that heist. Law enforcement suspects Balkan gangs are involved in the surprise attacks that are completed within moments.

What sets this robbery apart is the theft of “sensitive documents” from Saudi Embassy.

But the matter of the so-called ‘sensitive documents’ remains. Are they, as the Saudi intelligence veteran suggests, just the passports of the entourage? Or could they be something more serious and sinister? Various Saudi princes, after all, have been major sources of covert funding for operations as diverse as Iran-Contra in the 1980s and, more recently, jihadist operations in Syria. (Ties to the infamous ISIS in Syria and Iraq are less clear.) Some French politicians also have been known to accept the largesse of Arab benefactors. So it’s conceivable, if unlikely, that the sensitive documents are very sensitive indeed.

Of course, the documents could be nothing important at all. Most likely, we will never know.

Off topic welcome here at Over Easy and absolutely everyone is welcome to join the chat. See you in the comments.

Gaza Update: Delays, Deceit, and Death

By: CTuttle Tuesday January 14, 2014 2:17 pm

The Ceasefire was in fact extended for another 24 hrs… Palestinians, Israelis agree on extending Gaza cease-fire, continue talks

Egypt late Monday announced a 24-hour extension in talks between Israel and the Hamas militant group aimed at salvaging a long-term arrangement that would allow reconstruction of the Gaza Strip following a monthlong war that killed more than 2,000 people.

The announcement came just minutes before a temporary truce was set to expire at midnight, averting a resumption of the fighting that has caused devastating damage across Gaza and disrupted life throughout southern Israel.

‘Palestinians and Israelis agreed on extending the cease-fire by 24 hours to continue current negotiations,’ the Egyptian government said in a statement. Palestinian and Israeli officials confirmed they had accepted Egypt’s request for an extension.

A Palestinian negotiator said the sides had exchanged draft proposals for a long-term truce that were to be addressed during the 24-hour extension in talks. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Today’s Haaretz revealed the explosive politics at play within Bibi’s rabid Cabinet…

Israeli official: Netanyahu tried to hide Egyptian cease-fire proposal from cabinet

Only when Lieberman brought copy to cabinet meeting did PM reluctantly admit its existence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried last week to hide from cabinet ministers the draft of a cease-fire agreement drawn up by Egypt. A senior Israeli official said that during last Thursday evening’s cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman confronted Netanyahu, showing him the copy of the Egyptian proposal that he, Lieberman, had received, and demanded an explanation.

The Israeli official said Lieberman surprised Netanyahu with this revelation. This was the first that the other cabinet ministers had heard that Israel had received a draft cease-fire agreement from the Egyptians, and they demanded copies of their own so they could review it.

A stormy atmosphere ensued and Netanyahu found himself on the defensive. The official said Netanyahu told the cabinet members that it was only a proposal, one of many that had been updated again and again in previous days.

‘I didn’t say ‘yes’ to this draft and for now we do not accept it,’ he told the ministers.

To be sure…

Tikun Olam’s Richard Silverstein wrote yesterday about even more Palace intrigue… Avigdor Lieberman Leaked Secret Gaza Military Briefing

Bless Bibi’s piteous heart… Israel lifts Gaza fishing ban as goodwill gesture for cease-fire

Meanwhile, from Ma’an… Touring the devastated industrial zones of Gaza

From the WaPo… Instagram photos from Gaza: A shift from a summer lull to war

Lest you thought the WaPo was getting soft on Gaza, the odious Richard Cohen, quickly quelled that notion… Israel is held to an impossible standard

Sorry, allow me to cleanse your palate, from Electronic Intifada… An open letter to Israel

In wrapping up, Don’t you just feel the Love…?

Holes in the Earth

By: KateCA Monday August 18, 2014 3:07 pm


Mining companies losing billions of dollars from conflicts with local communities,” according to researchers from the University of Queensland, the Harvard Kennedy School and Clark University. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to hammer home that theme, here’s a bit of a round-up of just such recent activities, beginning with Bristol Bay.

*REMINDER: Pebble Mine, Bristol Bay, AK. London-based Anglo American backed out of its joint venture with the much smaller outfit, Northern Dynasty, to turn a part of pristine Bristol Bay, AK into a mammoth open-pit gold, copper and molybdemum mine. The proposed mine is so huge (20 square miles) that it would require “the world’s largest earthen dam to be built”, not good news in a state as earthquake-prone as AK. The US Environmental Protection Agency has published draft regulations favorable to protection of the proposed Pebble Mine site, under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, and in response to “9 Bristol Bay Tribes, The Bristol Bay Native Corporation . . . Bristol Bay Native Association . . . Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association and Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, National Council of Churches” and others. (More information here and here.) Please use this link to urge the EPA and appropriate elected officials to save Bristol Bay.

*Upper Peninsula, MI.  MI and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in the UP have battled for 12 years over construction of the Eagle Mine.   In their recent ruling, the state Court of Appeals ruled against Keweenaw Bay Indian objections to Kennecott Minerals Co.’s plans to proceed with the nickel and copper mine (ultimately owned by Lundin Mining Corp of Toronto). Opposition has included concern about  contamination of groundwater and “collapse of the mine crown pillar [leading to] significant irreversible impact to the watershed.”  Meanwhile, “over 300 geotagged photos of bulldozing and road construction” from the mine to a mill have been released, documenting impact on wetlands and some suspected non-permitted work.

*Mount Polley Mine, BC, I.  Imperial Metals is scrambling to come up with the $100 million it’s going to take to clean up the huge mess made by the Mount Polley mine disaster up at Likely, BC. Not only that, but their stocks declined by 10% last week—in addition to the 40% drop immediately after the world learned about the disaster. N. Murray Edwards who owns the most stock in the company will be responsible for $40 million of the $100 million they’re having to raise. (Mount Polley disaster links here.)

*Mount Polley Mine, BC, II. ”The Musqueam and Tsleil Waututh Nations are giving the Secwepemc First Nation fish from their territory because of concerns over contaminated water near the [Mount Polley] mine site.” Xat’sull (Soda Creek) Indian Band Chief Bev Sellars announced they’ve taken testing of local water into their own hands since they’re skeptical of government assurances that the water is safe. For its part, the BC Dept of Fisheries and Oceans won’t allow First Nations donating salmon to other First Nations to reflect that in the government quotas for the various First Nations. Talk about adding insult to injury!

*Iskut, BC. Imperial Metals is also having a heck of a time getting its Red Chris mine open. Capital costs have climbed from $570 to $631 million. And opposition to both Imperial’s Red Chris and Ruddock Creek mines has reached new levels among First Nations. The Neskonlith Indian Band delivered an eviction notice to Imperial’s downtown Vancouver offices last Thursday, and the Klabona Keepers (including Elders from the Tahitan First Nation) continue to block two roads to the Red Chris mine and “want things done safer.” (These are the same Klabona Keepers who protested Shell gas extraction in the area in 2012 until “Shell announced it was pulling out.”)