Zimmerman’s blues

For reasons no doubt related to the death of Levon Helm, this line has been running through my head for the last week: “Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see them.”

The Band did the definitive version of this song on “Cahoots,” but did not, of course, write the song. It was written by some guy they used to play with.

Talk radio update

Sean Hannity launched into a long, strange rant against NBC News. His actual complaint was with MSNBC, but he kept calling it NBC, presumably because that name carries more weight. He also kept invoking the names of Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw, presumably because those names carry more weight than those of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell.

Incredibly enough, Hannity’s basic complaint was that MSNBC wears its political ideology on its sleeve, that it slants the news to fit that ideology, and that it accepts without question biased reports from sources with which it agrees. In other words, he was attacking MSNBC for doing exactly what he does every day, four hours a day.

It makes a fellow wonder: What does Sean Hannity see when he looks in the mirror?

I should mention, by the way, that one commenter here used to frequently respond to my talk radio updates by saying that to be fair I should take on the TV cranks on MSNBC, too. My response always was that my talk radio commentary was a byproduct of delivering papers all day long on Thursday and that I didn’t watch enough MSNBC to have any particular opinion.

That was true enough at the time, but it really isn’t true anymore. For various reasons, I have watched quite a bit of MSNBC over the last couple of years, and I owe that commenter a full response, which I will get to by and by.

For now, just a couple of points:

1. Yes, I agree, Ed Schultz is just as obnoxious from the left as Hannity is from the right. It’s tough to take much of either.

2. I find Maddow and Chris Matthews likeable, Maddow because she is bright and spunky and Matthews because he is a jovial soul who really seems to care about, and know something about, political history. But I rarely have the energy, or interest, to watch either show all the way through. I find O’Donnell very strange.

3. During the daytime, MSNBC does a better job of reporting real news than Fox does, but the gap seems to be narrowing and may have closed altogether after 1 p.m. CNN is far and away the best choice for actual news.

4. None of the above applies to “Up,” MSNBC’s new weekend show with Chris Hayes. It comes on here at 6 a.m., so I miss a lot of it, but it really is worth setting the alarm for. Hayes is the one pundit who treats actual issues as if they mattered, delving deeply into things and discussing them at length with smart people from a variety of angles (this morning it was drone warfare and the Dream Act). You can try to compare what Hayes does to the talking point punditry you get everywhere else, but you really can’t. There is no comparison.



Here is the Outpost editor’s new Tea Party column, at slightly longer length and minutes before it appears in the actual paper:

A bad novelist likes nothing better than to bend the weather to suit artistic needs. A writer with a grudge against the Tea Party would happily have shivered through the April 13 rally on the Yellowstone County Courthouse lawn.

Advance materials for the rally said that the Tea Party and the conservative movement in general have been “blacklisted” by the media since the 2010 elections. That word drew my eye and also, apparently, the eyes of The Billings Gazette and Channel 2, who both had representatives at the rally.

But precious few others were there on a bone-chilling early spring afternoon. Perhaps two dozen people dotted the Courthouse lawn when the rally began. The number swelled to around 50 at the peak, then slowly diminished to a couple of dozen at the end, after most at the rally decided that weather trumped politics.

Many carried signs with messages such as “Stop waste,” “Bankrupting Our Kids Is Taxation Without Representation,” “It’s My Money, Not Yours” and “Keep Your Kool-Aid I Drink Tea.” A small child bore a sign saying “Keep Your Hands Out of My Piggy Bank.”

A handful of booths provided information. One was for Montana Shrugged, the Billings branch of the Tea Party, which claims some “5,000 patriots” and was named after a novel by Ayn Rand, the noted atheist who loved reason and hated government.

The Bozeman chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-backed political group based in Virginia, also had a booth. The chapter is worried enough about the health of the movement that a recent headline on its web page read: “Is the Tea Party Movement Dead?” The article’s answer – “Heck, No” – wasn’t entirely reassuring.

But AFP’s Henry Kriegel said at the rally that he wasn’t worried.

“Our numbers are reduced,” he said. “That’s OK.” The Revolutionary War, he noted, was won with far less than total public support.

But the dearth of politicians cannot have been good news. I saw a sign for Ken Miller, a Republican running for governor, and a man in a Ken Miller T-shirt, but I identified only two actual politicians: Clayton Fiscus, a Billings businessman who is running for House District 46 in the Montana Legislature; and Kathy Haman of Columbus, who is running in HD60.

The John Birch Society had a booth, and the group’s field coordinator for Montana, Michael Boyle, was there in suit and windblown tie. After a burst of notoriety in the 1950s, the Birchers fell out of favor in the 1960s when the group’s founder, Robert W. Welch Jr., accused Dwight Eisenhower, one of the 20th century’s greatest Americans, of being a communist.

Mr. Boyle declined to give membership numbers for Montana, but the group seems to have made a comeback as the political winds have shifted its way in recent years.

Conspiracy theories, apparently, still thrive. Deg Hanson, who was manning the booth, said communists can be found at all levels of government, from local to the national, but he was unable to name any communists involved in local politics.

Mr. Hanson also blamed government for rising healthcare costs. I pointed out that all other major industrial nations offer some form of universal healthcare, yet we in the United States have by far the highest healthcare costs in the world.

“Do we?” he asked in a tone that sounded a little, well, conspiratorial.

The invocation that preceded the speakers included the first attack on the Federal Reserve I have ever heard in a prayer. In honor of my own Tea Party roots, I declined to join in the Pledge of Allegiance. My fundamentalist upbringing turned me against the Pledge when the words “under God” were added in 1954, which we viewed as a blasphemous attempt to enlist religion in a rote exercise aimed at promoting a secular cause.

In opening remarks, Montana Shrugged’s Eric Olsen acknowledged some decline in Tea Party ranks, blaming it in part on the distraction of social issues in recent months. The deficit, he said, remains the most important issue, but taxes seemed to weigh more heavily on his mind.

“I tell everybody to protest property taxes every year,” he said.

Obamacare was on the mind of Janice Linn, who attacked the Independent Payment Advisory Board, an agency created by the act to control Medicare costs, as a “death panel.” She warned that the future of healthcare in America could be similar to England and Canada, where, she said, the governments save money by “letting people die.”

“Don’t expect the Supreme Court to stop Obamacare,” she said, “because the people who are forcing it on us are lawless.”

As speaker after speaker droned on, none answered the questions I had: If not Obamacare, then what? Fifty million uninsured and the highest healthcare costs in the world, with the rest of us picking up the tab whenever a poor person goes to the emergency room?

And how do you balance cutting taxes with cutting the deficit? Just assume, as one speaker did, that tax cuts always increase revenues? And if we return to the Constitution as the founders envisioned, what do we do about slavery? And letting women vote? And the tricky 14th Amendment?

The day was getting no warmer, and neither were the answers to my questions. As Williston, N.D., radio host Bella Dangelo rambled on about something or other, I wandered over to the sidewalk, where a man in a tri-cornered hat was holding a sign saying “Honk for Freedom.”

Quite a few people did, as they sped by on North 27th Street. Whatever the popularity of the Tea Party, I suppose, there still is a constituency for freedom, as long as it doesn’t involve getting out of the car.

Talk radio update II

A caller to Aaron Flint’s show asked whether states are sovereign. Flint hesitated, then said yes.

Harrumph. Just looking at it conceptually, if states are sovereign, why do we need a federal Constitution at all? Sovereign powers can’t be forced by a central government to do things they don’t already want to do, so a constitution would be a toothless compact.

Beyond that, the Constitution limits the powers of states in significant ways: in Article I, Section 10, for example, and in Article IV. Then there is Article VI, which makes it clear that federal law is the supreme law of the land, state laws notwithstanding.

Look at it this way: If I say you can do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t contradict what I want, then you are not sovereign. I am.

The caller said, “I’ve got some ideas that I can’t get anyone with a rational mind to listen to.” Unsurprisingly, this did not suggest to him that he should think up some more rational ideas. Instead, he seemed to think he needed a different audience. Perhaps on Pluto.

Talk radio update

Fund-raising week at Yellowstone Public Radio, which makes for a grim Outpost delivery day. Interruptions on public radio are way more annoying than on commercial radio. I guess it is because they are so unpredictable. During the 5 p.m. newscast, I must have switched a dozen times to NPR and managed to hear only three stories. The other nine times I bumped smack into the fund drive. Still, as always, NPR news was the best radio I heard all day: a piece on Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary, a piece on ALEC, a highly interesting piece on whether dollar coins are better than dollar bills. Coins, as it turns out, are a better deal for the government because Americans hoard so many of them, which takes them out of the marketplace, but bills are better for us.

Aaron Flint was back on “Voices of Montana” and immediately got into a tangle with Ken of Great Falls. I had forgotten how little I missed the verbal combat of these two towering intellects. I’m not sure who got the better of the exchange, which was about the Keystone Pipeline. They talked over each other a good chunk of the time, and I was delivering papers inside Perkins for another good chunk of the time, so it was hard to keep score. Ken had more numbers, I think. Flint’s crack research team will have to make some up to stay even.

Huckabee has been pushing his more conversation, less confrontation approach, which sort of works for him, but on Thursday even Hannity was trying to push it, too. For him, it’s a disaster. He walked all over one caller before making a minor concession, which the caller was wise enough to call a win and get off the phone. Hannity acted like he thought it was a real conversation, but only if you consider the sort of conversations I had with my drill sergeant in basic training to have been genuine conversations.

The second time, Hannity actually did engage in conversation with the caller and, boy, was it tedious. Hannity ended with a lecture about how kind he is to his employees — just the sort of hard-hitting analysis I want from my radio hosts on the vital issues of the day. Jeez, Hannity, just go back to yelling at people, OK?