Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I Have a Wing to Pick With You

Ed. Ed. Ed, and some more Ed. Broom the vanity and ego aside to get to a vignette from MSNBC's The Ed Show. There, the former right-wing talker but a left-wing talker for the past 16 years, Ed (of course) Schultz did his usual short segment Ask Ed (of course) Live.

That evening, his tweeted query was why didn't more conservatives appear there. He answered simply and disdainfully that he asked them and would welcome them, but they didn't want to. He figured they figured doing so would not help them get elected.

While I nod to Occam's razor, I don't worship the idea that the simplest explanation according to the known facts settles everything. I muse on why so few Republicans and other self-identified conservatives will talk with me at the weekly Left Ahead show.

It's been running for seven years. From the beginning, some weeks the founders — Lynne Lupien, Ryan Adams and I (Mike Ball) — sometimes like to cover topics ourselves. We'll all highly opinionated. About every other week, there's a guest.

Lynne long ago dropped out, pleading business busyness. I generally arrange and book most guests. A few contact me, but typically I call, email or meet potential guests. Often it's a deal to dicker on a day and time, even though we long ago picked a default that works for many, Tuesday at 2:30 PM. Few pols in particularly are solidly committed then.

We also make it pretty painless. We use BlogTalkRadio, so guests don't have to travel or give us an office space to record the show. For what used to be an hour and is now a half hour, they just call in and I manage the connections by computer and the tubes.

Moreover, we're probably too nice. We don't book multiple guests, don't bring on tit-for-tat adversaries to sensationalize or conflict. We don't try to trick anyone or spring accusations. We like to get to the big ideas and help the guest develop them on air. A few listeners used to on-line bullies on winger radio, or the Bill O'Reilly and Chris Matthews shouters are disappointed that we don't badger guests.

Are Wingers Gutless?

Scan the Left Ahead archives to notice a few things. First, the topics and guests are mostly politics and politicians. Second, many big ideas are subjects. Third, many of the guests are hotshots and big shots — a current or former governor, a state or U.S. Senator, and many office seekers. Fourth, there are damned few conservatives.

That latter is not from my want of effort. Some smart, fun and provocative ones included the very conservative MA pol Karyn Polito and the now late economics and transit guru William Lind. My politics differed markedly from those two's. Yet I think we brought out good stuff. Lind in particular could not have been farther from my political views, all except for transit-oriented development and mass transit. We had met at the Rail-Volution 2009 conference in Boston and bonded over our overlaps.

In many ways, Polito was the outlier for me. She spoke with me, took my card, checked the site and said, sure, she'd talk with us in her run for MA Treasurer/Receiver General. That was not at all hard, but she is quite the exception.

Virtually all the other right-leaning potential guests I meet or contact seem terrified or at least disinterested. So, I ask myself, are they cowards or is it like Schultz said, that they don't see the upside?

This has been happening again in this election cycle, which includes MA Governor. Scan the archives again and see every gubernatorial candidate, except the presumptive GOP nominee, Charlie Baker. That includes all five Dems, the several independents or political affiliation candidates and and the other Republican, self-defined full-MA-GOP platform, Tea Party candidate Mark Fisher.

I can't quite figure out whether :

  • Baker has no guts
  • His campaign staff has no guts
  • His staff's cost/benefit analysis doesn't see the ROI on an internet radio show
  • He or his staff thinks he's too important to be bothered

Bad Manners

Having spent much of my childhood in more genteel parts of the country, I can still be surprised by the poor breeding of Bostonians and New Englanders. For example, when they do not return phone calls or emails, I have to wonder, who are their people? Were they raised by wolverines?

Baker's camp has been the worst, in both of his staggers toward the governorship. I have gotten fewer than one response to multiple voice and email requests to Baker and his campaign manager,

You can amuse yourself by calling the Baker campaign number, (617) 254-2014.There's no human and no option to speak to one...ever. You can dump your request into a voice box or punch in by last name. The communications director, Tim Buckley, does not communicate and is not even in the directory. The campaign manager, Jim Conroy, does not communicate but is in the directory. There's a slush email box, info@charliebaker2014.com and the other's is conroy@charliebaker2014.com.

Conroy has ignored 11 voice or email requests. Because Buckley hides from ordinary mortals, the closest I could get was Facebook and requests through that info box, where he ignored an FB friend request and two direct messages.

Again,who are their people? Didn't they have mothers or someone to act like a mother?

The gormless Baker-camp non-reactions are particularly noteworthy and amusing in light of Fisher's prompt and warm response. He and I could hardly differ more politically, but we had a good chat. Moreover, he clearly was raised well.

Fear of Lefties

A previous failure of booking seems to blend all the possible causes. I had Jennifer Nassour in hand, only to lose her. She chaired the MA GOP from Jan. 2009 through Sep. 2011.

I spoke with her at two political Rappaport presentations at Suffolk Law, in early 2009 and early 2011. At both, she pressed her card into my hand and told me how much she wanted to be a Left Ahead guest. She punked on both.

Most telling here is her mortal sin, in GOP eyes. She was candid.

In the April 1 (yes, that day), 2009 issue of Bay Windows, she spoke about the new Republican party here, particularly how they wouldn't be guilt tripping on marriage equality, gay rights and abortion. Honk. Wrong.

She got months of pitchfork poking from the most conservative party members and the nasty MassResistance guy, Brian Camenker pretending to be a real movement. The gist seems to be not only should she not have said the party would stop its hateful rhetoric to bring in unenrolled and socially liberal GOP voters, but she should never have even spoken with LGBT-friendly media.

Since her time, the newest MA GOP chair, Kirsten Hughes, won't respond to repeated contacts.

Well,our show hides nothing. It's there in the Left Ahead name. We're reasonable and nice but we don't pretend to be anything else.

I've lost count of the potential guests who have heard the name on a phone line or seen my card and stopped dead. "Left...Ahead...are you left wing?" is the typical shocked question.

Nothing that progressives and liberals speak with anyone, and that we are antithetical to right-wing talk radio's bullying tactics doesn't cut it. Far too many conservatives seem terrified at speaking with "left" anything. Pathetic.

Lefty Anomaly

To smooth the edges and risk being simple-mindedly even handed, I'll admit that there's one left winger's crew who is afraid of me.

Following the initial show with Elizabeth Warren, her handlers seem winger gutless. They won't return my calls or emails either. Once burned, 1000 times shy.

I was blessed or cursed with being early to the Warren extravaganza, in Oct. 2011, right after she announced for US Senate, she spoke with us. It was genial, particularly as she and I are the same age, and both born in OK.

We had a jolly time, including an exchange in which I noted that with my OK/WV background, I have heard repeatedlyfrom the provincials in Boston that I am a hick. Moreover, the local wingers had railed against her as a 17-year Harvard professor, a.k.a an elitist. She laughed, saying she was new class, an elite hick. She said something about going for the hick vote. We laughed.

Well, the plug nasties were loaded for her, just waiting. Our show was just the first Warren-hunting expedition.

The next morning, I got a call and email from her communications guy, asking if I knew of the s**t storm. Turns out, the forces of evil had tried to run with that innocuous bit of humor. Suddenly everyone from FoxNews to winger talk radio and even the likes of ABC TV and the NYTimes portrayed her as ridiculing rural America.

Of course, she didn't say anything like that. However, the imps had been lying in wait for something they could use.

In our show, she said maybe there should be a group hicks for Elizabeth. Again we laughed. I actually made some buttons (reproduced here). My wife and I, from hick backgrounds, wore them. People asked for them and I produced more. I showed her one at Boston Mayor Tom Menino's block party the next July She alleged to love it. I sent her one, but given the crap she got for moments of humor, she most assuredly tossed it.

At that party, one of her staffers, a ziftig woman actually pushed me. She muttered something about how I'd better not try to pull any tricks and insinuated that I and not the forces of right-wing evil has caused the early dust-up.


The sad aspect is that Warren's people have not responded to several show requests since. I'll try again, likely by being at one of her public events and squirreling up with her. After all, she adores my yellow glasses.

Of course the hick-vote fad disappeared months later, to be replaced by the Native-American one. Those gunning for Warren picked up her listing herself in a faculty directory as having Cherokee roots. They manufactured a fantasy that she had only gotten jobs at Pennsylvania and Harvard as a result. They morphed that with calls for her to release every academic job application she has ever made, much in the mode of birthers demanding President Barack Obama's short-form, then long-form birth certificate, and subsequently his college applications and transcripts. Pathetic. As with the President, the crazies won't let go of their silly slanders.

Common Senselessness

So there it is, kiddies. There are many variations on guest-interview shows. You might:

  • Be typical right-wing radio, badgering lefty guests and licking the hands of your own type
  • Play grade-school magazine, bringing on a balance of left and right wingers for mush
  • Let the guest shine, like Dave Leno or, dare I write, Left Ahead

There are others, but we are definitely in the latter category. So I still have to wonder why so many conservative sorts fear us.

Over the years, many right wingers have passed on coming on Left Ahead. Granted, we do not have prime-time TV or even cable reach. A small show for us gets hundreds of listeners and a big one 10,000. Those are far more than a pol talks to in a typical stump speech, plus anyone who listens live or clicks the archive play is committing to half an hour of dedicated ear time. If I were a candidate for any office, I'd chat with as many shows as would have me.

I note that the progressive and liberal pols have no problem going on hostile right-wing shows. Yet it seems rare that Republicans and self-described conservative types mirror that. Maybe I shouldn't advise them, but righties would be smart to go on pinko shows.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Latest Pathetic Winger Hero

SuperRancher (in his sad, strange little mind) Cliven Bundy is n the midst of his moment. Wingers throughout the country are proclaiming him at once martyr and warrior.

He'll plunge to earth all too soon. Perhaps when he does, a few of the FTW, make-up-rules righies will have passing thoughts on personal responsibility.

You can get tons of background, at least right now. Search the net to find conspiracy-minded crazies making up stuff and conflating others, like here. If you'd rather deal with reality and the provable, you'd be better off with the actual laws he's been violating for two decades, like here. If you'd like to read how the courts view his baseless claims in their rulings, go here and here.

The punchline is that Bundy has been stealing from the US government by not paying it for grazing rights on land he has never owned nor even had easements to. He owes over $1 million to us, a.k.a. U.S. His response has been that he wrote small checks to a Nevada County, which has no power to let his herds graze on federal land, and that he recognizes some of Nevada's authority, but none of the federal government.

His loony raps take two tacks:

  1. Minimize any fees he should pay, and all the other ranchers do already pay
  2. Assert his power to legislate and enforce laws, of which of course he has no such powers

I figure since he has lost all court appeals through the federal level and owes us over $1 million, he's looking at liens and foreclosure because his debts. He likely has more than enough money to pay back fees plus penalties and interest. If he chooses not to, the feds will likely take the legal and financial tracks, instead of seizing his cattle on federal lands. I'm sure his fellow ranchers would buy his land and herds if it comes to that. Then the tax resisters can shoot their guns in air, spit on the dry dirt, and moan about not being able to make up their own rules.

Winger media have been talking and screeching over each other to proclaim Bundy super. Some compare him to Henry David Thoreau and his actions that led to tax resistance in the mid-19th Century. You can refresh yourself with Resistance to Civil Government, which has become known as On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

There's scant concurrence though. Young Hnnk T engaged in an act of conscience, not paying poll tax that he thought would go to support the Mexican-American War as well as slavery. He was willing to go to jail for his statement and in fact spent a day and night there (before someone, likely an aunt, paid his poll tax, largess he accepted).

Bundy on the other hand is clearly motivated by greed. He is a wealthy cattle rancher, doing all he can to keep his costs down and profits up. Coupled with his fantasy that he can make up any laws that suit those goals, he is as irresponsible, dishonorable and dishonest as they come.Thoreau snuck away from jail knowing that money in his name went for purposes he disapproved of, but Bundy seems to have no principles at all.

This is a pattern we have seen often from the American right. They want things to be the way that benefits them, but they are not willing to take their lumps in protesting. In short, by Thoreau's standards, they are not American, they aren't noble, and certainly not super.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Colbert has this

I'm certainly not an entertainment writer, unless you consider political blathering theater. Yet, I've heard and seen myriad Colbert Reports segments since he started nearly nine years ago.

Let's pretend experiential  observation equals insight and justifies commentary.

In the day since CBS announced Stephen Colbert as David Letterman's replacement on The Late Show, I was alternately not at all surprised then very surprised by the prophecies of doom.

I won't bother you with linking to the winger loonies taking this trivial announcement as an evil omen worthy of addition into the Book of Revelation. The usual buffoons like Limbaugh spoke of leftwing conspiracies and a future of propaganda, like,  like, well, I guess an apt analogy would be Bill O'Reilly and other Fox lying heads.

The surprises came when I read in several left-leaning sites and papers that S.C. from SC wasn't ready, couldn't handle it, and would definitely fail.

Many of the jeremiads came with such dire predictions. These bozos are sitting in corners squeezing their honkers. I apologize for including one link, from Wired where Peter Rubin writes, "this is not going to go well." Likewise, numerous blowhards conclude that because Colbert will do his stint as himself and not the O'Reilly parody mirror on this current show, he'll confuse us stupid Americans. Others claim that Kimmel and Fallon, the jumping Jimmies, have divvied up the youth viewers and Letterman's oldsters won't watch a lefty.

I am sure you have seen as well as I that BS commentators bluster immediately and then never, ever correct and apologize. They'll have to whistle loudly and look far away to avoid this one.

I'll write it here and be willing to take my lumps if I'm wrong. Colbert will do a great job, far surpassing the million nightly viewers he's gotten on basic cable, and will get his share of viewers across a wider spectrum of ages than Letterman.

Colbert is surely ready, more than ready, to leave his caricature of a winger behind. He is a terrific actor, comic, singer, dancer and more. The bigger virtues are that he is at once smarter than other late-night hosts and more clever, as in quick witted, than they.

He'll be several steps ahead of those on left, right and the incestuous entertainment industry media. They apparently can't imagine how he'll be able to amuse without terrifying pre-bed audiences with thought-provoking dialog with guests. They seem to envision every monologue as a political tirade.

Sorry guys and gals, Colbert is smarter than you. Just watch, listen and learn. We should be damned sure by the time Letterman steps down and Colbert steps up that he'll funny, very funny, very original and not at all repetitive.

I further predict as he gets his audiences comfortable, he'll turn Socratic. Look for his guest interviews to use that ancient maieutic method that upset the Athenian fogies down at the agora. Better than Jon Stewart and certainly more than the predictable other late-night hosts, Colbert and elicit the key ideas behind guests books, campaigns and lives. Count on his being the midwife for such oh-ho moments several times a week. That will be worth staying awake for.