Saturday, April 09, 2011

What's Sesame Street in Urdu?

The BBC reports:

The United States is funding a Pakistani remake of the popular TV children's show Sesame Street.

In a new effort to win hearts and minds in Pakistan, USAID - the development arm of the US government - is donating $20m (£12m) to the country to create a local Urdu version of the show.

The project aims to boost education in Pakistan, where many children have no access to regular schooling.

The show is to be filmed in Lahore and aired later in the year.

"The programme is part of a series of ventures that is aimed at developing the educational infrastructure in the country," Virginia Morgan, a spokesperson for USAID, told the BBC.

"Education is one of the vital sectors that need help in Pakistan."

The show will be set in a village in Pakistan - rather than the streets of New York - with roadside tea shop and residents sitting on their verandas.

The remake will star a puppet called Rani, the six-year-old daughter of a peasant farmer, with pigtails and a school uniform, according to Britain's Guardian newspaper.

There are some who have criticized Sesame Street for turning education into entertainment, that is, for making learning a bit too much fun (as if "thought control" and "dark sarcasm" are preferable). There's something to that, I suppose, but the decline of educational standards, and of cultural literacy generally, is hardly the fault of a single TV show, and, personally, I've always loved Sesame Street and found its educational efforts to be genuine and beneficial. (I was even on it. No, not with the Muppets, alas, but on some French-language segments produced for the Canadian version, back when I was a kid.) Besides, compare it to so much of the rest of our culture. It stands out as a model of decency that encourages children to do more than just sit and drool.

There's always a bit of concern when the U.S. government gets involved with spreading "culture," but this seems like a pretty good idea:

In an interview with a local edition of Newsweek, Imraan Peerzada‚ a writer for the new series‚ said the protagonist was a brave and daring girl.

"She will represent what little girls have to go through in this gender-biased society," he said.

He said her journey would inevitably touch on Pakistan's ongoing fight with militancy, but would not directly refer to religion.

"We don't want to label children‚" he said. "The basic learning tools of literacy‚ numeracy‚ hygiene‚ and healthy eating have to be in place first."

A noble goal, to be sure.


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Friday, April 08, 2011

Truth in Comics: Paul Ryan's balancing act

From RJ Matson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via Taegan Goddard):

We'll add this excellent work to our "Truth in Comics" series. 

And for more on Ryan's much-ballyhooed budget plan, "The Path to Prosperity," see Jon Chait's:

Great analysis of a fiscally irresponsible and incredibly cruel plan.

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Racism in Republican Mississippi

What, goes the old joke, has for 'i's and can't see? Mississippi.

Americans nationwide are evenly divided over the issue of same sex marriage. But Republicans in Mississippi are divided over a wholly different wedlock issue: interracial marriage.

In a PPP poll released Thursday, a 46% plurality of registered Republican voters said they thought interracial marriage was not just wrong, but that it should be illegal. 40% said interracial marriage should be legal.

It's easy to forget, given how far America has come, that such racism thrives all over the place, and not just in the overtly racist/Republican bastions of the Confederate Deep South.

But obviously it's pretty bad in Mississippi, or more specifically among Republicans in Mississippi (I shouldn't impugn the entire state, I suppose), and it hardly comes as a surprise that the leading Republican in that state is Haley Barbour, whose views on race are a tad, well, old-fashioned.

For more, see:

-- Haley Barbour and the KKK: A perfect Republican match?

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Ugh; or, being under the weather and watching Republicans push America over a cliff

Sorry, I'm a bit under the weather this week, which is why I haven't blogged much the past few days -- it's one of those things that's tough to shake.

But stay tuned. We'll keep posting, and I hope to be back to normal soon.

In the meantime, some suggestions:

-- Karoli, Crooks and Liars: "UPDATED: Conservative Waukesha County Clerk "Finds" 7,000 Votes For Prosser." (Loads of reaction to yesterday's stunning news from Wisconsin at Memeorandum.)

From state to federal...

It's all (or a lot) about so-called policy riders:

And Republicans, who would likely lose politically in the event of a government shutdown (though both sides are preparing their spin), are trying to make it about the troops:

Just your typical GOP bullshit. I'm surprised they didn't try to make it about 9/11.

Have a nice day.

-- Michael

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Why did Fox News fire Glenn Beck?

Because, let's face it, a firing it was, despite the happy-talk press release announcing that Fox News and Mercury Radio Arts, Beck's production company, will continue to "work together to develop and produce a variety of television projects for air on the Fox News Channel as well as content for other platforms including Fox News' digital properties."

So why was he fired? Declining ratings? Concern that Beck would make Republicans look really bad heading into 2012? Recognition that he's a loose cannon and not exactly a team player? Embarrassment among the rank and file, if not throughout the entire organization?

Does it matter? Do we care?

Normally, I'd turn this over to R.K. Barry, our resident Beckologist, but from what I understand he seriously injured himself yesterday doing a series of backflips upon hearing the news. Initial reports that it was his groin seem to have been overblown. I suspect it's his back and that he's now on some serious meds.

Can you blame him? We won't have Glenn Beck to kick around anymore. Well, not really. He'll be around, but his days as an unavoidable right-wing media personality are probably over.

Then again, it's fun to kick Glenn Beck around, and, yes, he did make Fox News and everything else on the right look bad. And he's been great for business, the business of those of us who oppose him and everything he stands for.

And we won't have Jon Stewart doing Glenn Beck, which he's doing right now, as I type. Hilarious stuff. (Ah, Jon just said he's been good for business, too! I suppose a lot of us are saying that.)

I'm tempted to say that his firing/departure will be good for America, and for American political and cultural discourse, but of course he's only departing his daily show at Fox News. He'll still be on the radio, and he'll still have his legions of followers (even if most of them are old).

But I do think we ought to celebrate his firing. As Alexander Zaitchik, author of Common Nonsense, puts it (quoted by Weigel):

Moving forward, I see him turning into a sort of hybrid-figure, part Limbaugh, part Breitbart, part Pat Robertson, maybe a little Ben Stein on the documentaries front. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that his days as a heavy, constant presence in the mainstream conversation are over. Whatever media shape-shift he's about to perform post-Fox, he's a greatly diminished national presence for those who aren't "Insider Extreme" members at Which is a blessed, blessed thing.

Indeed it is.

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Words to live by, words to regret

By Carl 

"At a time when the economy is still coming out of an extraordinarily deep recession, it would be inexcusable -- given the relatively narrow differences when it comes to numbers between the two parties -- that we can't get this done," Obama said last night at the White House.

Obama has played this budget debacle exactly right, in my opinion, and it's paying huge dividends for Democrats across the nation. He has come off as statesman-like and put no political capital on the line here.

Conservative pundits have been screeching like seagulls about how Obama needs to be more involved, how it's wrong of him to go off to fundraisers for 2012 while the nation faces a crisis, yaddayaddayadda.

First, one wonders where these asshats were during the 6 1/2 years that Bush spent down in Crawford through things like Katrina, but I digress.

The Constitution is pretty clear about the delineation of budget responsibilities: it falls to Congress. What the conservative tactics tell me is, Pelosi and Reid have been playing hardball, drawing lines in the sand and refusing to commit to anything beyond them.

Those lines must be pretty fair ones, too, for moderates or we'd hear a lot of complaining about how entrenched the Dems are being, how special interests are playing fast and loose with the budget and so on. As well, we'd hear that the sides are very far apart. Obama has made a particular point of noting the narrow gap between the two sides.

Clearly, conservatives feel they can get a better deal from Obama. To his credit, he's refused to upend his Congressional leadership.

Contrast Obama with this: 

"Listen, there's no daylight between the tea party and me," the Ohio Republican said in an interview with ABC News conducted Wednesday.

"None," he said, when questioner George Stephanopoulos pushed back. "What they want is, they want us to cut spending. They want us to deal with this crushing debt that's going to crush the future for our kids and grandkids. There's no daylight there."

I'm grinning as I write this. Boehner is from Ohio. Ohio is a battleground state. While Boehner can slather his district with pork to ensure his re-election, the one thing he cannot do is persuade people that insane folks are sane.

His seat is officially up for grabs now. By marrying himself to the Teabaggers, he will now make the Speaker of the House of Representatives officially responsible for every hate-mongering sign, every slanderous blogpost, each and every outrageous stunt the Teabaggers pull, in and out of Washington, D.C.

There's eighteen months. That's practically an eternity in national politics nowadays. He's hitched his wagon to a failing star whose light is dimming after the supernova of 2010. The Koch brothers' money is running out, or else Glenn Beck would still have his job at FOX and Wisconsin would still be electing Republicans.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

It's not about the money

By Mustang Bobby 

When you see something like the budget that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) proposed with all its cuts to programs that have become ingrained in the fabric of American life such as Medicare, and then listen to the other things the Republicans want to cut such as public broadcasting or regulations on pollution, it's obvious that cutting spending is just an excuse. Like the teabaggers say, they really do want to take the country back: back in time.

They want to go back to the 1950s, or better yet, to the 1920s or even the 19th Century when there were no safety nets for the poor or disabled, when children worked in the textile mills, when minorities were very much in the minority in terms of everything, and everyone was a lot happier as long as you were rich, white, and healthy. If you weren't, well, that was God's will, and if the life expectancy was in the mid-50s and people died from the common cold and 12 hours a day six days a week meant that the factory worker had little time for foolishness and impure thoughts such as striking for a fair wage and shorter working hours, that was the American way.

As Rachel Maddow noted last night, Mr. Ryan said about his proposal, "This isn't a budget, this is a cause." And he's right. His budget proposal perfectly outlines the GOP philosophy of every white man for himself and the rest of you will have to just suck it up and make it on your own, especially if you're older and not feeling too well.

The Republicans know they've lost the battle on such things as multiculturalism, gay rights, women's rights and reproductive choice. They can't make the arguments any more on philosophical grounds because they sound like they're racist, homophobic, misogynistic bigots, so they resort to the one thing they know gets to everyone: money. Sure, we'd love to provide healthcare to all people at an affordable cost but it costs money. Sure, we'd love to turn the public schools into palaces and pay teachers what they're really worth, but we're broke. And yes, we'd love to make sure that all the police and firefighters have a say in their negotiations over their wages, but we just can't afford it. It's their perfect excuse, and it works, at least until you remember that it was the Republicans who got us into this mess in the first place... just as they did in the 1920s when everything was hunky-dory right up to the Crash in 1929.

If Mr. Ryan had made such a budget proposal five years ago, at the height of the Bush administration's two wars that were off the books and the tax cuts that helped get us into the deficit we're in now, he would have been shown the door not by just the Democrats, but by the Republicans as well. His timing would have been way off; the only time the Republicans care about a budget deficit or too much spending is when a Democrat is in the White House. But now they see this as the opportunity to take us back to the good old days on the excuse that we just can't afford to be the America we've become.

If it was merely a matter of budget deficits and revenue, this discussion would have been over long ago. But it's really about going back to the days when the white heterosexual Protestant men were in charge; minorities knew their place, children were seen and not heard (but contributed to the work force), women didn't vote, there was no income tax, and Republicans didn't govern; they ruled. That's what this is all about.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Combating evil: What Islam and the Qur'an are really all about

Guest post by Hamid M. Khan 

Hamid M. Khan, an Adjunct Professor of Islamic Law at the University of Colorado Law School, is a Rule of Law Adviser with the U.S. Institute of Peace in Kabul, Afghanistan, and a fellow with the Truman National Security Project in Washington D.C.

(Ed. note: This is Hamid's sixth guest post at The Reaction. You can find his previous posts here (on Pakistan), here and here (on Obama's Cairo address), here (on revolution in Iran), and here (on being Muslim in America). Yes, he's becoming a regular. -- MJWS)


Last Friday's heinous attack on U.N. workers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, which was prompted by the burning of a Qur'an by Florida Pastor Terry Jones, serves as a stark reminder that is all not well within Islam. As an American Muslim working to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan on behalf of the United States, I am appalled by the senseless violence instigated by those claiming to share a religious faith and once again leads to question how Muslims choose to uphold their own faith. 

Few Muslims quibble with the notion that the Qur'an is the word of God. Moreover, it is generally accepted that the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad some fourteen centuries ago. While the Qur'an is found in book form today, it began as an oral tradition and hence, even to this day, millions of Muslims follow that tradition by memorizing lines from the original Arabic. Coincidently, the content of the Qur'an (which is about the size of the New Testament) largely remains a mystery to most believers since the original version is in sixth-century Arabic and more than 85 percent of Muslims today are not Arabic speakers. Moreover, even if one could begin to grapple with the Arabic, the Qur'an is filled with allusions, allegories, puns, and an unmatched poetic style. Consequently, Muslims will often turn to religious leaders to understand its content, leaders who often know little more than their fellow believers. Nonetheless, every believer bears personal responsibility for understanding what the Qur'an truly says. 

The Qur'an's contents, like other religious tomes, is varied. Despite notions to the contrary, less than five percent of the text is devoted to legal matters. Moreover, the most mentioned person in the Qur'an is the patriarch Moses, followed by Jesus Christ, and the Virgin Mary is mentioned more in than the Qur'an than she is in the Bible. In fact, the Qur'an takes pains to codify the tolerance of other faiths and repeatedly recounts how struggling for "true" faith has always been measured by those who have withstood ridicule and derision and remained steadfast. The reality is that most of the Qur'an is dedicated to the principles of mercy, compassion, grace, salvation, and love. However, this message is not for the edification of Pastor Terry Jones but for Muslims as a whole. 

During my lifetime, I have witnessed in horror as Muslims have taken to the streets in fits of rage to attack anyone and everyone, all in the name of "defending" Islam. Whether it's violence spurred by cartoons of the Prophet or publication of The Satanic Verses, or physical attacks on those who would disagree with Islam and its practices, the reality remains: not only have these Muslims willfully ignored the Qur'an, they have betrayed the faith they claim to uphold.

Islam, a faith comprised of over 1.3 billion followers, has endured for fourteen centuries and influenced the course of history itself. Islam's "golden age," where it was seen as a force for intellectualism, philosophy, science, and understanding, has today been eclipsed by puritans bent on reducing the faith to a series of simplistic notions, turning the Qur'an into an irrational legal code that promotes violence, authored by a bloodthirsty God.

Muslims need to accept that, inasmuch as they believe in the Qur'an and Islam, they would do best to uphold the Qur'an by living up to its central tenets: compassion, mercy, and tolerance. They need to accept that the best "defense" against the calumny of others is explained by the Qur'an itself: combat evil with good. Muslims need to demonstrate that Islam is found in more than just the Qur'an, that it is expounded by steadfastness and acts of goodness and love. And it should be remembered that, no matter what, evil cloaked in faith is never acceptable, especially to God.

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Michele Bachmann is like Howard Dean, but crazy

Over at TNR yesterday, Jonathan Chait laid out a path for Bachmann to win the GOP presidential nomination. She's still a long-shot, but it makes sense, particularly if she's able to build on her formidable ability to connect with the base (including the Tea Party) and raise money.

If the Republican field remains weak, with no major challenger on the right (like Palin) entering the race, and with the "establishment" stuck with Romney and Pawlenty, the latter of whom is trying desperately to bridge the divide and appeal broadly across the party while the former continues to struggle with a decided lack of credibility with conservatives (and with being a governor who introduced health-care reform very much like Obama's), Bachmann could excite the grassroots enough to win Iowa and then carry that momentum through New Hampshire, with Romney will win, and into South Carolina and other states where she should could pull off a series of victories that propel her to the nomination.

Okay, highly unlikely. But would you really put it past today's GOP, with its extremist right-wing base (whether Tea Party or "social conservative" (i.e., religious/theocratic), or both), to pick a crazy extremist like Bachmann?

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The one-percent solution

By Carl 

According to President Obama, Congressional Republicans and his office are less than one percent away from a temporary budget deal.

I have an idea.

In order to bridge the gap between the Republicans' budget axe and Obama's budget scalpel, how about we shut the wars in Afghanistan and Libya down, and the occupation in Iraq?

You know, it doesn't have to be a troop pullout. We can simply have a "peace holiday": a short-term cessation of all military activities. Let the troops enjoy the sunshine, soak up local culture, and mingle amongst the citizens of those nations.

We'll save bookoo money on munitions, fuel, reconaissance. All of that will go towards funding important things like feeding the hungry back here at home, helping someone find a job, keeping our borders secure, cleaning up the environment ahead of the busy summer travel season, and Social Security checks flowing.

After all, the cynical timing-- after Social Security checks for April had been sent and cashed -- surely did not play into the Republicans strategy, did it?

That should more than close the gap between both sides and allow time for the rest of us to ridicule the Republican budget proposal for 2012 sufficiently that they tuck their tales between the candyass cheeks and suck it up as the losers they are.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Elephant Dung #25: Maine Republicans slam Republican Gov. Paul LePage

Tracking the GOP Civil War

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

I wrote last year about "Mainesanity," the takeover of Maine's state GOP by Tea Party wackos. And by that I don't mean your run-of-the-mill small-government Teabaggers, the sort who are extreme but not utterly insane, or not necessarily so, but rather... well, wackos. As Maine Politics explained at the time:

The official platform for the Republican Party of Maine is now a mix of right-wing fringe policies, libertarian buzzwords and outright conspiracy theories.

The document calls for the elimination of the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve, demands an investigation of "collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth," suggests the adoption of "Austrian Economics," declares that "'Freedom of Religion' does not mean 'freedom from religion'" (which I guess makes atheism illegal), insists that "healthcare is not a right," calls for the abrogation of the "UN Treaty on Rights of the Child" and the "Law Of The Sea Treaty" and declares that we must resist "efforts to create a one world government." 

This was extreme even by Republican standards.

November 2010 witnessed yet more "Mainesanity" with the election of Tea Party Republican Paul LePage as governor. (It was a narrow win. LePage squeaked by an independent candidate and won with just 38 percent of the vote.) He proved to be a pretty nasty character during the campaign and has done nothing since then to indicate that he's anything but a right-wing extremist who rode the Tea Party wave, got lucky with a split vote, and somehow got himself elected in a state where leading state-wide Republicans typically resemble Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, not, well, Paul LePage.

And like certain other Republican governors -- Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio come to mind -- he's made labor unions (and working people generally) one of his primary targets. But that isn't going over all that well in Maine, including among Maine Republicans, some of whom (presumably not the ones who wrote that platform) are pushing back:

Eight Republican state senators have issued a rare public rebuke of Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), writing an op-ed expressing "discomfort and dismay" with some of his recent comments directed at labor backers.

The controversy centers around LePage's recent decision to order a mural depicting the state's workers' history removed from the Department of Labor, arguing that it was biased against businesses and employers. When asked how he would react if protesters carried out their plan to form a human chain around the mural, LePage replied, "I'd laugh at them, the idiots. That's what I would do. Come on! Get over yourselves!"

"But for him to announce that he would 'laugh at the idiots' should they choose to engage in our honored tradition of civil disobedience is another personal attack that only serves to further lower the bar of our public discourse," write the senators in the op-ed, which ran in The Portland Press Herald and the Kennebec Journal. "We may disagree with civil disobedience in this particular instance, but it is a fundamental right each and every one of us might engage in if we found the issue important enough. 


These are "proud Republicans" who "want Gov. LePage and his administration to succeed." They want to see his right-wing policy agenda (lower taxes, less government, etc.) enacted. And their criticism of LePage isn't directed at his opposition to organized labor but at "the tone and spirit of some of the remarks he has made." What they seek to uphold is civil disobedience, the right to dissent, a political culture of dignity and respect, a spirit of civility. While they claim that they "are not the enemy of labor and labor is certainly not an enemy to [them]," it is clear that the rights of workers, and particularly organized workers who bargain collectively, not only isn't their priority but may actually be antithetical to their pro-business ideology.

So is this really dung at all? These Republicans like LePage. They just want him to tone it down and respect their common opponents.

Fair enough, but this is a case of a prominent Tea Party Republican going too far and members of his own party publicly chastising him. And even if these Republicans aren't necessarily pro-labor, and even if they support much of the Tea Party agenda, their call for greater dignity and respect, including towards labor, is very much a rebuke to the politics of extremism and absolutism that characterizes so much of the right these days. 

It's good to see that at least some Republicans have had enough.

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Reversal, capitulation, weakness: Obama, Congress, and the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

There was much ado yesterday over the Obama Administration's apparent "reversal" with respect to where and how to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others involved in the attacks. They will be tried not in a civilian court but before a military commission at Gitmo.

The NYT's Charlie Savage called it "a major policy reversal," suggesting that the White House "abandoned [its] plan amid a political backlash." While "[t]he shift was foreshadowed by stiffening Congressional resistance to bringing Guantánamo detainees into the United States, and by other recent steps clearing the way for new tribunal trials,... it marked a significant moment of capitulation in the Obama administration's largely frustrated effort to dismantle counterterrorism architecture left behind by former President George W. Bush."

Reversal. Capitulation. Apparently it's all Obama's fault.

But is it? Savage goes on to note that Attorney General Holder "stood by" his initial determination that KSM et al. should be tried in a civilian court. "He criticized restrictions imposed by Congress last year that banned the military from using its funds to transfer detainees to domestic soil, even for trials."

Well, that's it, isn't it? It's not what Obama did, it's what Congress did to limit his options. Steve Benen explains:

Holder told reporters [yesterday] afternoon that his original decision was still the right one, but blamed Congress for "tying our hands."

He happens to be right. Even today, Holder wants to do the right thing, and so does President Obama. And yet, Gitmo is open today, and KSM will be subjected to a military commission in the near future, not because of an administration that backed down in the face of far-right whining, but because congressional Republicans orchestrated a massive, choreographed freak-out, and scared the bejesus out of congressional Democrats. Together, they limited the White House's options to, in effect, not having any choice at all.

There's plenty of room for criticism of the administration, but those slamming Obama for "breaking his word" on this are blaming the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

This is not to excuse how Obama has handled "national security" so far. In many respects he has maintained the Bush-Cheney national security state, including some of its worst elements. And, of course, Congressional opposition to trying accused terrorists in civilian courts gives him cover. He (or Holder) can blame Congress, an easy target. Obama (and Holder) could have pushed harder to get what they supposedly want, just as they could push harder to close Gitmo, but they don't want to.

It's sort of like how Obama could have pushed harder for a public option to be included in the Affordable Care Act or for earlier DADT repeal. He always blames Congress for tying his hands, even though he's the one with the bully pulpit (and significantly greater popularity than either party in Congress).

Yes, Steve is right. Congress deserves the blame for this. But let me qualify that. Congress deserves much of the blame for this. Because Obama deserves some of it as well.

As CBS News is reporting, "Obama said last month that he remained committed to trying terror suspects in federal courts," yet he also "approved the resumption of military trials for detainees at the Guantanamo prison, ending a two-year ban." Yes, yes, his hands were tied, what else could he do? I get that. It's hard to get very far with Republicans and cowardly, appeasement-minded Democrats blocking him.

The problem is that, with respect to national security and the "war on terror," Obama hasn't done nearly enough to secure our trust, to suggest that, regardless of what Congress does, he isn't just a somewhat softer replica of his predecessor. It may be correct in this case to blame Congress, but if the president really wants to move away from Bush-Cheney, on terrorist trials or otherwise, he needs to show the necessary leadership to make it happen. Because it just isn't all that presidential to throw your hands up in frustration, whether you mean it or not.

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Americans are stupid woefully misinformed

From TPM (via Libby):

In a CNN poll of American adults released Friday, the median guess on what percentage of the federal budget goes to public broadcasting was 5%. With a $3.55 trillion budget last year, that would put funding for the CBP at approximately $178 billion.

In reality though, that's not even close.

The CPB received about $420 million last year from the federal government, making it roughly one one-hundredth of one percent, of the overall budget. That means that the median response was about 424 times higher than the actual amount of federal funding that went to public broadcasting last year.

Further, 20% of respondents thought CPB funding made up over 10% of the entire budget, including 5% who said it made up at least half.

This, of course, is how Republicans dominate the narrative over the budget, and how they achieve electoral success generally, namely, by feeding, and feeding off, widespread public ignorance.

With respect to the budget, it's how they try to convince you that they can offset their tax cuts (mostly for the wealthy) with spending cuts -- but not cuts to popular entitlement programs like Social Security, and not cuts to military spending, but cuts to "waste" (which never really amounts to much, despite their claims) and to such perennial right-wing targets as the NEA, NPR, and PBS (which are not nearly as significant in terms of federal funding as they suggest).

It's their vicious circle, you see:

-- People are ignorant.
-- Republicans make more people ignorant and people more ignorant.
-- More people vote Republican.
-- More Republicans make more people even more ignorant.
-- Etc., etc., etc.

The truth shall set you free. Which is precisely why Republicans don't want you to have it.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

Supreme Court gets around "establishment of religion" prohibition by allowing tax credits for religious tuition

And so the right-wing Supreme Court continues to erode the First Amendment:

The Supreme Court on Monday let stand an Arizona program that aids religious schools, saying in a 5-to-4 decision that the plaintiffs had no standing to challenge it.

The program itself is novel and complicated, and allowing it to go forward may be of no particular moment. But by closing the courthouse door to some kinds of suits that claim violations of the First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion, the court’s ruling in the case may be quite consequential.

Justice Elena Kagan, in her first dissent, said the majority had laid waste to the doctrine of "taxpayer standing," which allows suits from people who object to having tax money spent on religious matters. "The court's opinion," Justice Kagan wrote, "offers a road map -- more truly, just a one-step instruction -- to any government that wishes to insulate its financing of religious activity from legal challenge."

The decision divided the court along the usual ideological lines, with the three other more liberal members -- Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor -- joining the dissent.

The Arizona program gives taxpayers there a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit of up to $500 for donations to private "student tuition organizations." The organizations are permitted to limit the scholarships they offer to schools of a given religion, and many of them do.

The question comes down to whether a tax credit is essentially the same as a government expenditure -- in this case with respect to government financial support for religious institutions (if not for a specific religion). Justice Kennedy, writing for the conservative majority, said no, but I'm really not sure there's a substantive difference. As Justice Kagan wrote: "Taxpayers experience the same injury for standing purposes whether government subsidization of religion takes the form of a cash grant or a tax measure." And so what the Supreme Court is saying -- or, rather, its majority -- is that government subsidization of religion, through organizations that are not religion-neutral, is constitutional.

As BooMan notes, this is all "rather clever." Handing out tax credits instead of direct subsidies (which even this court might object to) is a way for conservatives, and for conservative states like Arizona, to circumvent the First Amendment's "establishment of religion" prohibition. It's theocracy through the back door, and, because "standing" was taken away from you, there isn't a damn thing you can do about it.

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The Donald

Wait, Trump's just in it for himself, for TV ratings and the limelight he so craves?

Say it ain't so!


Not to pick on this particular Times piece, nor on the Times, but come on. Did we ever think Trump wasn't in it for himself? No matter what he's done, from the casinos to the airline to the TV shows to the hotels to the USFL to... well, to anything and everything with the Trump name on it or in any way attached to it, it's always been about The Donald.

And he isn't going to run for president in 2012 or ever. It ain't happenin'. He craves the limelight, but he wants to control it, and he wouldn't be able to control it were he to run, and a hell of a lot would come out that he'd rather keep hidden.

This is all just a massive sham. The Times should know that. We all should know that.

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Torpedo of truth: Charlie Sheen bombs

I have no interesting discussing Charlie Sheen's disastrous show in Detroit on Saturday. Honestly, what did you expect?

There is still widespread fascination, most of it alarmingly lurid, in all things Charlie Sheen, but he's clearly out of his mind (drug-induced or otherwise). How's that for a diagnosis?

Okay, how about this one? If he's not out of his mind, he's full of shit (and parading his shit as empowerment, what with all that ridiculously stupid "winning" talk).

And it's disturbing that not just the media but so many in the public are lapping it up.

And, really, you paid good money and got shafted, and maybe you booed and ended up walking out? Again, what did you expect? You're a fool.

Anyway, if you want some reaction to the show, I encourage you to check out my friend Joe Gandelman's link-filled round-up over at The Moderate Voice.

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Good Luck With That, Mr. President

By Carl
President Obama on Monday kicked off his reelection campaign with a quiet video posting rather than the usual hoopla.

In addition to the video, titled "It Begins With Us," the Obama campaign sent an e-mail to supporters announcing the drive for 2012. The announcement had been expected and was signaled in reports throughout the weekend.

Obama pledged to focus on his job, but will pick up the tempo of campaigning this month with several fundraisers. The campaign is hoping to raise a record $1 billion.
Or roughly twice what it spent in 2008. When it had the fervor of a religious revival and the mantle of destiny.
With all due respect, Mr. President, it's going to be hard to drum up that kind of enthusiasm amongst even your ardent defenders, like myself. You know your campaign is in trouble when the best rationale you have to seek our money is "Keep me in office to keep them from their agenda."
Your second term shouldn't be about playing defense. Yes, you made some significant progressive moves in your first term, healthcare reform being the most obvious example. But you also capitulated to a corporatocracy that really doesn't give a rat's ass who's in power, so long as they remain there.
In truth, that's who runs this country, from the Oval Office to the Congress to the SCOTUS (anyone remember Citizen's United?) The people who adopted you early, your earliest fighters from the primaries, they looked to you for hope and change. The millions and millions who sent you $5 or $10 or $25, the people who are hurting the worst right now in the depths of this recession-that-technically-isn't, they looked to you for help and protection.
War was declared on we the people decades ago, Mr. President. Bill Clinton saw that, and saw that it was getting out of hand, that the nation needs its citizens whole and working. You do too. The difference is, he would have done something more than HAMPer us.
Trillions for banks. Nothing for Americans except a tax cut that no one even noticed and a healthcare reform bill that, if it survives, won't even kick in for another three years. Ahead of it, HMOs are gouging rates and doctors are overbilling all in the name of the rainy days to come.
When do we get to fight this class war back? When do we get to untie our hands and instead of being beaten, slapped and punched, maul those who harm us daily, with no regrets, without honor or loyalty to the nation that bestowed upon them the very gifts that our soldiers, We The People, have fought so hard for over the centuries?
When do you champion us? I'll give to your campaign. I may even contribute the same significant amounts I did in 2008. But it won't be with joy in my heart and hope for the kind of change we can believe in.
It'll be because I don't want a Mormon and a Moron running this nation.
You'll just have to settle. Like we have.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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BP wants to drill again

According to the Times, "BP has asked United States regulators for permission to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico."

It's like nothing ever happened.

Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, huh?

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

Just how bad are things at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station?

Pretty bad:

Workers' struggle to plug a gush of highly contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, using sawdust, shredded newspaper and an absorbent powder, appeared to be failing early Monday as the radiation threat from the crippled plant continued to spread.

Water with high amounts of radioactive iodine has been spewing directly into the Pacific Ocean from a large crack discovered Saturday in a six-foot-deep pit at the coastal plant north of Tokyo. The pit is next to the seawater intake pipes at the No. 2 reactor. 

Ummm... sawdust, newspaper, and a powder? Okay, it's a powerful powder that apparently can expand up to 50 times its size (meaning, it can absorb a lot of water), but still, is this really what it's come to? I'm hardly an expert on such matters, but it all seems rather hopeless.

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Peter Guralnick, teaching us about those who make the music

(Ed. note: It's Music on Sunday at The Reaction. We're going to try to do more of this, with regular posts from Richard on a wide variety of music and music-related topics. And the rest of us may chip in as well from time to time. I posted some Heart videos last night and often post music clips, usually on weekends. Yes, we're still a political blog, but it's fun to do other things now and then, and we've blogged frequently about music, art, literature, philosophy, etc. Now we're just trying to make it a more regular feature. Hope you enjoy. -- MJWS)

Several years ago I got interested in reading biographies and autobiographies by and about musicians. My interest is mostly in rock, blues, jazz, R&B, folk, and "Great American Songbook"-type artists. Well, with the exception of classical music, which I've never managed to learn much about, I guess I like a lot of things.

One of the very best writers about popular music and those who make it is Peter Guralnick. I actually stumbled on him when I picked up a book of his called Last Train to Memphis about the rise of Elvis Presley. He went on to write a second book about his fall, if it's fair to call it that, called Careless Love.

Other books by Guralnick that I have had the pleasure of reading are Sweet Soul Music, Lost Highway, and Feel Like Going Home, in which he profiles all sorts of artists in genre like rhythm and blues, country, rock, and blues.

Everything he writes is very well researched. He understands music. He's got a great sense of culture, history, and politics. He has an incredible knack for making music celebrities fully human -- strengths and weaknesses. And he writes very well. That's not a bad endorsement.

The last thing I read by Guralnick was Dream Boogie, about Sam Cooke, another gem.

All I can say is that when you finish one of his books or essays, you feel like you know something about a subject and can listen to the music with a better of understanding of what's going on.

Getting back to Elvis, I first started paying attention to the phenomenon probably in the early '70s, not long before he died, which was around the time he started to become a caricature and a bit of a joke. I was too young to catch him on the way up so didn't really appreciate his contribution. It was good to read the Guralnick set to get a better understanding of how important Elvis was to the development of rock 'n' roll.

I don't have anything brilliant to say about Presley or the books, or anything else that this writer has done, only that if you have an interest in this kind of music, you'll want to check him out.

Here's a little something for your entertainment pleasure: "Blue Suede Shoes" from a very young Elvis Presley.

(Cross-posted at Music Across the 49th.)

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GOP validates America's hatred of Congress

The Republican Party has validated the American public's growing frustration, annoyance, and near-historically low disapproval of Congress with a bill proposed this week that epitomized the do-nothing reputation and partisan bickering of politicians on Capitol Hill.

The proposal, which Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia touted as a safety measure against the looming threat of a government shutdown, would make the Republican Party's February budget proposal the "law of the land" if Congress fails to enact a budget resolution before current government funding expires on April 8.

The Republican Party's February budget proposal, H.R. 1, called for $61 billion in discretionary spending cuts, most of which targeted popular social programs that the Democratic Party vehemently opposed. The bill earned a veto threat from President Obama even before it passed in the House, and after it passed it was deemed dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Nobody so much as blinked when the bill died on the Senate floor due to a lack of bipartisan support.

So what will it take to pass this new proposal and to avoid the potentially devastating effects on the economy and job creation if a government shutdown occurs?

In short, a miracle.

In order to become law, Cantor's bill requires that the same Democrats who so staunchly opposed the GOP's $61 billion in spending cuts on March 17 then turn around not two weeks later and vote for those very same cuts.

Not even Rod Serling could have thought up this one.

But lest you should be fooled by the media's claims that this is yet another "symbolic" measure put forth by the ever-unserious GOP, Cantor was quoted Wednesday telling reporters, "We are serious."

The Hill reported that "aides could not immediately explain how their new bill would solve the crisis or whether they expected the Senate to approve it."
According to Cantor spokeswoman Leana Fallon, "[I]t is our hope that this bill will, at a minimum, spur the Senate to pass some bill funding the government for the rest of the year so that we can work quickly to resolve any differences." If Congress fails to act, she added, "passing this bill would at least keep the government open."
She is correct. Passing this bill would indeed keep the government open. Unfortunately, it would also eliminate the incentive for Republicans to continue negotiations with Democrats. If their original proposal becomes law, there is no need to "spur the Senate to pass some bill funding the government," because Republicans can sit out the remainder of the talks, wait for current funding to expire, then throw a party for their Tea Party constituents when health-care reform is defunded, the Environmental Protection Agency is gutted, and a slew of other social programs are forced to cut core services and, in effect, jobs, on April 9.
Putting a new title on an old policy won't change the hearts and minds of Democrats in the Senate. It won't convince the public that Republicans are serious about reaching common ground on the budget. And it definitely won't quell the animosity that Americans feel toward Congress. (According to the latest Gallop poll, Congress has an 18 percent approval rating.)
If there is a silver lining to this cloud, it's that voters across the nation, particularly Virginia voters, and especially deficit-hawk conservative voters, begin calculating a taxpayer-based cost-benefit analysis of the type of leadership that comes with paying majority party leaders a salary of $193,000 a year.
Or maybe Cantor needs a pay raise.
(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Heart: "Crazy on You" and "Alone"

Let's turn things over tonight to Heart, the (now classic) rock band led by Ann and Nancy Wilson, with two of their best songs:

-- From the '70s, "Crazy on You," off their debut album, Dreamboat Annie (1976), performed here on Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special variety show (which aired Friday nights after Carson).

-- From the '80s, "Alone," off their album Bad Animals (1987), performed here at Seattle's Moore Theater for their 1995 acoustic live album, The Road Home.

The Wilsons are pretty awesome, aren't they?


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