Even less.

Some years back, Alan and I saw Bill Maher’s Broadway show in New York. He spent a few minutes talking about people whose response to 9/11 was to put American flags on their SUVs. This was, “literally, the least you could do,” Maher said.

This was 2003, before Facebook and Twitter and the rise of what we’ve come to call slacktivism. It was before People magazine could write a story like this and not have heads explode across the country:

In the wake of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan Friday afternoon – which triggered a 10-meter tsunami and a lingering threat as far west as the California coast – celebs have taken to Twitter to reach out after what may be the biggest such disaster on record to strike the country

(It ended like that, too. No period. Like a tweet, sorta.)

I guess this is what constitutes “reaching out” these days — reaching for your iPhone and pecking out a text message. This was Lea Michelle’s contribution:

So devastating to hear about the huge earthquake & tsunami Japan. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone there.

This makes putting a flag on your car look like a two-year hitch in the Peace Corps. You actually have to go to a store or corner gas station or whatever, select and pay for the flag, figure out the plastic clip thingy, affix it to the car and take it down when it’s torn to ribbons.

Ah, well. This all seems like a very small thing after an event that actually changed the coastline of Japan — it’s now “wider,” the earth’s axis shifted by 6.5 inches. You read stories like that, and you realize we are all just ants crawling around on a picnic blanket, and every so often someone shakes the blanket.

Tiny, insignificant ants.

That’s a cheerful thought for a Monday, wouldn’t you say? How about a change of subject? A few people have sent me the “Michigan is screwed” video that’s been going around, Rachel Maddow breaking down the details of new GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget plan, spinning it as an evil plot to not just smash unions, but be the flying wedge of a Republican takeover of EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING I TELL YOU, until one day in the near future it is complete and Snyder peels off his face to reveal that of a SkyNet commander, OUR NEW ROBOT OVERLORDS.

Well, that’s one way to spin it.

Every fact in that report is correct. What it lacks is context. It is true that Snyder’s budget — still in proposal form, still not enacted — raises taxes on the poor and elderly and strips business taxes to the lowest in the Great Lakes region. What Maddow doesn’t tell you is the first is the loss of an earned income tax credit averaging $432 a year, and that Michigan is among a dwindling handful of states that doesn’t tax pension income. If all you do is benchmark the practice, it’s probably time for Michigan to join the rest of the country.

But the real meat of her report is the part about state officials being able to swoop into any municipality or school district and stomp it to pieces under their jackboots, a fate she implies is right around the corner for any number of cities and towns — the part about the sign on the outskirts with “founded in 1872” being made obsolete is a bit much. This part of the plan is only the beefing up of the state’s existing emergency financial management law. Stephen Henderson, a Freep columnist — and no conservative — provides context:

For years, local governments and school districts have been able to walk right up to the brink of financial disaster without any intervention from the state. So when state officials do rush in, they face horrific conditions with too few options for balancing the books.

That’s why cities such as Pontiac have made so little progress getting costs under control even with emergency financial management. It’s why Robert Bobb can’t do what the accountant in him knows needs to be done to fix Detroit Public Schools. And it’s why officials in Hamtramck were just a few months ago begging the state to let the city go bankrupt so drastic steps could be taken.

The state’s current rubric for dealing with financial emergencies is weak to the point of flaccidity. Legislators are right to firm up the consequences of inaction.

He goes on to say that wiping out elected officials and smashing existing contracts goes too far. But he’s right that for now, there’s too little sanction placed on cities that screw up.

There’s a great deal of discussion about the budget proposal in the state now. Much of it — led by Mitch Albom, Rochelle Riley and a few other high-profile Michiganders, along with many of my friends — is about the loss of the generous film tax credits, which would undoubtedly take all the air out of the movie and TV production going on around here. That concerns me, but frankly, that’s not my ox being gored. I’ve long thought the amount we’re handing out is unsustainable over the long haul, or even the short one, although I’m sorry to see it go.

What’s far, far more worrisome to me is are the proposed, and enormous, cuts in education funding — primary, secondary and higher — as well as municipal revenue sharing, which will have a far greater impact on our way of life than whether the next Mitch Albom film project is shot in Detroit or not. Virtually all education monies in Michigan come from the state, following an overhaul in the 1990s designed to fix inequities. I frankly can’t believe this isn’t getting more attention, but then again, Albom has no children.

The forces of all the affected constituencies are girding for the battle ahead — the AARP, Michigan Municipal League, Albom and his fearsome quiver of dramatic repetition, et al. One of my local school-board members has written a bit about these issues on his blog, including the emergency financial manager proposal, and the school-funding issues. (I suspect he’s very proud of the latter entry, which works on a Winnie the Pooh metaphor. Michiganders, show your luv with a click.)

I guess it’s all in how you look at things. It could be worse. We could live in Japan.

Manic Monday — must run.

Posted at 9:47 am in Current events, Detroit life |

40 responses to “Even less.”

  1. Connie said on March 14, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Reductions in Michigan state aid will have a huge negative impact on the regional library cooperatives, which already took a 40% hit a couple of years ago. In my region it will hurt if not destroy the delivery system that allows libraries in two metro counties to share books, as well the delivery component of melcat, the statewide shared catalog. OTOH We are thankful that the budget includes a specific line for the MEL’s shared databases. Probably due to the power of the college/university lobby is what I hear.

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  2. ROgirl said on March 14, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I use the public library in Troy, Michigan, which is scheduled to close on May 1st because Citizens United, a Tea Party group, defeated a millage increase in November.

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  3. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 14, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Wait ’til Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich releases his budget at 1:00 PM tomorrow. I am so out of a job (well, my one “regular” job weekdays) as of July 1. Updates to come, but the Buckeye State isn’t going to let Michigan outdo us in any way, including budget cutting.

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  4. LAMary said on March 14, 2011 at 11:02 am

    I guess you could say that people like Lea Michelle have to make some comment if they are using Twitter to address their fans and what Lea Michelle tweeted met a minimum requirement. Since Lea probably makes a lot of money, I hope she also sent a fat check to the Red Cross. Money talks, bullshit tweets.

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  5. Jolene said on March 14, 2011 at 11:27 am

    I heard something about the Red Cross mobilizing a network of celebs to tweet about the disaster as a means of encouraging people to send text messages that result in $10 donations. Wish I could remember some of the names to check what they said, but it doesn’t seem like Lea Michelle’s message would be part of that since there’s no “ask”.

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  6. Suzanne said on March 14, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Libraries have taken a huge hit in Indiana, too. The state-wide library cooperative which had several regional offices, closed up a few years ago after the state took it’s funding and gave it to the State Library. As is normal, everything in Indiana eventually gravitates to the Indianapolis. Schools are now experiencing what libraries have for several years, all the while politicians bemoan the “brain drain”.

    As for celeb tweets, I’m reminded of the Contemporary Christian rock band that was involved in a fatal traffic accident here a few years ago. Within minutes of the impact, band members were tweeting, which I found in poor taste, but maybe that’s just me.

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  7. Connie said on March 14, 2011 at 11:35 am

    The circuit breaker tax reform in Indiana had a huge negative impact on all local government in Indiana including public libraries. And as libraries were dealing with the impact the State implemented new, more difficult to meet, rules regarding staff certification and library standards.

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  8. Jolene said on March 14, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Here, from Katy Perry, is an example of the sort of thing I mentioned above.

    Imagine… if we ALL texted REDCROSS to 90999 we’d have raised over 60million dollars for #JAPAN REFLIEF! BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE! BE!

    Not exactly selfless dedication, I guess, but surely some of her 6 million followers who might not otherwise donated will be motivated to do so.

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  9. brian stouder said on March 14, 2011 at 11:55 am

    My takeaway from Rachel’s righteous rant wasn’t

    the part about state officials being able to swoop into any municipality or school district and stomp it to pieces under their jackboots

    so much as the part about hiring out the summary takeover to some private, for-profit contractor or other. If Rachel was wrong about that, I’m with you, Nance; otherwise the hair-on-fire commentary she made strikes me as altogether appropriate – given the school voucher mania that the Hoosier state is now toying with.

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  10. Sue said on March 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Thank you brian. Right now three different states have introduced right-to-work laws with almost identical wording; the proposed budget for Pennsylvania, a state where apparently you can set your water on fire, gives an energy executive power over most state departments to expedite permits that will ‘create jobs’; and Wisconsin’s Senate leader admitted that if ‘we’ are successful, defunding unions will hurt Obama’s chances to take the State (no politics here, this is all budget-related, remember that people!)
    So, a little hair-on-fire commentary might be welcome right now. MSNBC along with a few blogs seem to be the only ones noticing that the Republicans may have come back to the well one time too many. Something big is going on, it just might be coordinated, and I’m relieved that there’s some pushback somewhere.

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  11. Jeff Borden said on March 14, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I really hate the idea that schools and libraries are being gutted by budget cuts, but tax breaks and corporate handouts continue apace. I keep hearing teabaggers yelling that they do not want to leave their children deeply in debt –a noble thought, indeed– but apparently they do not mind leaving their children deep in stupidity.

    The global economy demands a well-educated, well-trained workforce. How can the U.S. expect to compete if we are starving our educational systems?

    If this keeps up, American exceptionalism is going to be defined by our poorly performing students.

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  12. beb said on March 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I’d be a lot happier about havbing my pension taxed is the Gov were simply giving my money away in the form of lower business taxes.I don’t thin Wal-Mart needs help making a profit in this state.

    I;ve heard this as well that there is no cap on the salary of the Financial Managers that would take over bankrupt cities and that they could issue no-bid contracts for services. Both of these seem ripe for abuse, profiteering and cronyism.

    As for Mr. Bob Bobb, his idea of 60 student classes isn’t going to fly and even bringing up the idea reveals a level of unseriousness to his efforts.

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  13. Julie Robinson said on March 14, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    If America will not support her institutions of learning–schools and libraries, then she will devolve. Schools and libraries have always been equalizers and resources for those who want to pull themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps. Is there any meme America likes more than that? After the cuts in social and medical services, WIC & foodstamps, gutting schools and libraries on top of the poor job market make for a grim future for those already already at risk. Our non-profits and religious institutions will not be able to close the gap.

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  14. Sue said on March 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Jeff Borden, in WI tax breaks do not continue apace. Well, that is, tax breaks for the littlest of the little guys, that is. Earned income tax credits and homestead tax credits are getting hit, but really, what’s a couple of hundred bucks here and there? To someone who’s barely surviving, it could be the difference between just barely making it and final disaster.
    One of the things that hasn’t been explored nearly enough in all the uproar is the actual cost to the most vulnerable individuals in the states where ‘the hard decisions have to be made’. Some unbelievably cruel stuff is coming out of these budgets. Nice that someone is noticing that the middle class might not be able to absorb this latest hit, too bad the poorest of the poor, young to old, are still relegated to the corner.

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  15. del said on March 14, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Progressive taxes. Answer to all these political skirmishes.

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  16. mark said on March 14, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful and nicely composed post, Nancy.

    And moe, glad your friends located their son. I did a little looking for assistance and none of the answers I got were encouraging- too many Americans in Japan and too much confusion and interrupted roads and lines of communication.

    I hope the events in Japan cause us all to be a little more careful in what we label a “crisis”.

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  17. Bitter Scribe said on March 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    ROgirl — I’m going to be in Troy later this month for a visit to the Death Star (otherwise known as my company’s corporate HQ). I’ll keep an eye out for your doomed library. Know any good places to eat there?

    Julie Robinson–Yes, schools and libraries are equalizers. That’s why plutocrats and their useful teabag idiots pick on them, along with the courts (“tort reform”)–because they can’t stand institutions where everyone really is as good as everybody else.

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  18. paddyo' said on March 14, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Re: your Twitterati thumbs-across-the-Pacific item . . .

    The other crazy-making thing that now seems an obligatory part of every news organization’s coverage of Big News Stories Like This is the blindingly obvious sidebar about how Twitter-Facebook-SOCIAL MEDIA!!!! are Revolutionizing The Way We Communicate And Respond To These Dramatic Disasters!! blah-bitty-blah-blah. Dateline NBC wedged one such lighter-than-air piece of newscrap into an otherwise pretty good hour Sunday night on the latest developments from Japan.

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  19. alex said on March 14, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    On a lighter note, it’s official: Fort Wayne has no balls.

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  20. Bob (not Greene) said on March 14, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Hey, all you Indiana folks: Evan “I hate all the partisanship” Bayh has a new gig!


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  21. Tori said on March 14, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    I don’t know if this is doing nothing, but I feel a need to post this after watching hours and hours of coverage this weekend. This is for an acquaintance of mine. Please re-post on Facebook if you see fit.

    “Dear Friends: We are in search for any information from our family in Ishinomaki, Japan and the surrounding areas. If anyone has any info on Norio Abe (mid 80’s), Kiyoko Abe (mid 80’s) Katsuya Abe (50’s), Kimiko Inoue (mid 60’s) or Koetsu Inoue (40’s) from Ishinomaki, please let us know as well as Hiroko Ninomiya (30’s) from the Nobiru area. Also, if you’ve had contact with someone from this area or know the status of certain areas/neighborhoods within Ishinomaki it would be very helpful. Email information to mabe@theartmuseum.org. Thank you!”

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  22. moe99 said on March 14, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks, mark. And Tori, I will post the search request on my FB when I get home from work.

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  23. brian stouder said on March 14, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Bob not Greene, that was a very groan-worthy link you posted.

    I suppose it is reasonable to conclude that Bayh is going to run for the presidency of the United States on the Republican ticket, right? Or maybe he’s wanting to be Gov Huckabee’s second?

    Other than that, let me just say that the one image that has stuck with me from Japan is the old fellow on the roof of his house, in the middle of the sea, waving his arms for rescue.

    I cannot fathom most of the rest of this catastrophe, but his story is one I want to know. He looked to be in his 60’s or so, and I think I heard that he and his wife evacuated after the quake, and that he returned for something ahead of the tsunami.

    So the man lives a pretty long life, and then in 90 minutes finds himself literally alone and at sea.

    The fluff journalists should get his full story – no matter how banal – and I will buy and read it. Somehow, the (presumeably) everyday work-a-day domestic tranquility arc of his life, leading to that day, and that fate, strikes me as arresting. (it made me think of that old Peggy Lee song “Is that all there is?”. You’d have to say to God something like – “Really? six decades on earth and THIS is my fate?”)

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  24. ROgirl said on March 14, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Bitter Scribe, there are a lot of good restaurants in the Troy/Birmingham/Royal Oak area. It really depends on what you want, but Camp Ticonderoga and a place called Recipes in Troy are good.

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  25. Jenine said on March 14, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    To help find people in Japan, a Google app: http://japan.person-finder.appspot.com/?lang=en

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  26. jcburns said on March 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Paddy O, I had exactly the same reaction watching the Dateline on Sunday…after having been generally disappointed with NBC’s reporting, they come on with some solid stuff and an unusually lucid and nonembellished Ann Curry and then it kinda seems like they gave up 2/3rds of the way through. That “social media is huge” piece by Kate Snow was way inappropriate and had the feeling of being the spawn of a tunnelvisioned news producer (“ooh, I have an idea!”) in New York, and then when they got Keith Morrison (hands down, the smarmiest voiceover narrator on any “news” magazine) to attempt to wax poetic over the still pictures from Japan for a piece…well, let’s say the pictures deserved to have stood on their own in silence. It was the best writing I’ve ever heard Morrison intone, but that’s not saying much.

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  27. Connie said on March 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Pictures of post-earthquake libraries in Japan. http://togetter.com/li/110567 I did hit the let Google translate button and enjoyed the oddness of the translations.

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  28. moe99 said on March 14, 2011 at 6:47 pm


    a graphic to show the change in taxes proposed by Snyder. hint: the poorer classes lose

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  29. Jeff Borden said on March 14, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I guess the GOP is now the reverse Robin Hood.

    Perhaps the firestorm in Wisconsin will be the start of working people finally standing up and calling bullshit on 30 years of being treated like shit. Or maybe not. It will be hard to sustain the anger for as long as the repeal effort may take and we can be sure the Koch brothers and other rich lizards will swoop in with the millions needed to protect the targeted elected officials. Still, when an estimated 85,000 to 100,000 show up in Madison a very cold day to show their displeasure, anything is possible.

    Certainly, the catastrophe in Japan deserves as much time and attention as the American media can muster, but I have been mildly dismayed at the lack of national coverage of the ongoing protests in Wisconsin. Glenn Beck, with the power of Fox News and his army of radio sheeple, draws a mere 87,000 to Washington on a lovely summer afternoon and it draws national news coverage. Those who support workers and their rights gather in greater numbers in Madison and there is barely a note outside of lefty blogs.

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  30. Hattie said on March 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Somehow your report from Michigan does not reassure me. What you don’t want to face is what a mess the place is.

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  31. prospero said on March 14, 2011 at 7:59 pm


    But corporations are people too. Scaliar says so.

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  32. Rana said on March 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    (I posted this on another site, but it sums up my feelings right now so well I’ll share it here as well. I’d like to know what this crowd thinks.)

    I swear, sometimes it feels like this whole decade is one long string of people refusing to learn from the lessons of previous generations, simply because they have no first-hand personal experience with the dangers of a free-for-all society: vaccinations, unions, public education, infrastructure, environmental regulations, abortion, taxation, race relations, international relations… all being defunded or rejected because they were so effective previously at fixing serious problems that most people today have no idea why they were (and are) needed.

    I really don’t want to have to reprise the last century, not least because I suspect that our current society isn’t up to the challenge of fixing it a second time.

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  33. Linda said on March 14, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    Bob (not Greene):
    Of course Bahye is the Fox house liberal. It pays better than being a real one. And, like Willie Sutton, he knows where the money is.

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  34. brian stouder said on March 14, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Rana – well said.

    The thing that always fascinates me about history, is that reading it knocks the shine right off of the idea that our current generation is smarter than previous generations; or that they were any smarter than us.

    Leading tea partiers might do well to crack a book or two (and preferably not one by a high cheek boned, high-maintenance tea bag woman like Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann), before extolling the infallible wisdom of our nation’s founders

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  35. Crazycatlady said on March 14, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    The GOP cost-cutting race to the bottom has the look of a contest to see who can cut the most the fastest and without stirring up the masses. It’s so creepy. I see a huge backlash.

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  36. Rana said on March 14, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    I see a huge backlash.

    Crazycatlady, I hope so. I’m not so sanguine. I feel it is all too possible that the media will not adequately cover the issue, the Democrats will either say little or not be covered when they do (Al Franken, Bernie Sanders), and the only voices “explaining” things will be more Republicans claiming that it’s because of taxes, liberals, or “big government” that people are suffering. It’s worked this way before, and I’m not confident that things are going to change any time soon. There’s too much money invested in this status quo (which is why corporations and the rich are carefully being excluded from the cost-cutting).

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  37. Dexter said on March 15, 2011 at 1:27 am


    I am most happy for Tom Waits and Jac Holzman, because I have all of Tom Waits’s records, tapes, cd s…and for Jac Holzman because he let The Doors just be The Doors, and his visionary ideas of production really made The Doors sound incredible.
    One thing he did was take his production crew out into the parking lot and listen to The Doors music in their cars on those car radios, broadcast illegally from a small radio signal Jac had set up, to get it right…he wanted a great sound coming into cars. Jac Holzman is a genius.
    I heard this stuff on a live radio interview. Amazing! And now, Hall of Fame !!

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  38. Dexter said on March 15, 2011 at 1:45 am

    I watch very little network television, but it is nice to have one show a week to call my own, once in a while. This season it is “The Chicago Code”. Great exteriors, crisp editing, well defined and blended plot lines…but…man, this is some of the worst acting ever.
    I can’t believe anyone is watching Jennifer Beals as Police Superintendent and buying that, and Jason Clarke is an Aussie I believe, and his Chicago accent is pathetic. He really needed to be sent to fellow Aussie Rachel Griffiths’s speech coach. Griffiths can ditch her accent for any role and she is great at adapting to whatever accent she needs… Clarke sounds like a pissed-off foghorn. Delroy Lindo is an interesting cat alright; he plays Alderman Gibbons. I find no fault with his performances.
    Franklin reviews this show in the current New Yorker if you are interested.

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  39. Jolene said on March 15, 2011 at 2:33 am

    Among the diverse explanations of how nuclear power works, what the explosions mean, and what “meltdown” means is Rachel Maddow’s description. Very clear and easy to understand.

    I didn’t see her show tonight, but she is criticized in the comments for being too alarmist re the safety of nuclear power.

    And I’m w/ you, Rana, w/ regard to the idiocy of many of the claims and, worse, the decisions of the current crop of Republicans. The idea that everything would be just great if the intrusive nanny state would just leave business and individuals to their own devices is such a delusion that it’s hard to even begin to imagine how to communicate w/ people who hold such views. As horrible as things are in Japan, many, many lives were saved by its strict building codes.

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  40. moe99 said on March 15, 2011 at 3:00 am

    MJ Rosenberg thinks Maher is anti-Muslim:


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