Air America Is Still On the Air

The much ballyhooed/derided Air America radio network has been on the air for four weeks now, and I’ve been listening live most mornings (since I’m on Pacific time) to its star show, “The O’Franken Factor”, with Al Franken and Katherine Lanpher. I’ve got a few notes on the show and some of the others.

First off, let me say that I can’t take more than a very short period of listening to HannityOReillyLimbaughSavage and their ilk. I have no respect for their lack of factual content, or the lock-step manner in which they hew to the party line. So I offer these comments and criticisms with the hope that they’ll be taken as supportive of the intent of Air America.

“The O’Franken Factor” (OFF) has had some great guests. It’s one truly great thing about the show. Al’s at his best playing off of some of these very intelligent people.

Al needs to loosen his grip on his schtick. Maybe it’s a result of his having worked in comedy and speaking engagements for the past three decades, but he keeps coming back to the same touchstone stories. He’s used the same well-rehearsed items in his books, interviews on talk shows, and probably in his speeches. I understand exactly what he’s doing, because I do the same thing myself. They’re funny a couple of times, but you need to try to keep from telling the same gag to the same audience more than once. It’s hard to do when you’re on the radio fifteen hours a week — the temptation to fill time with a reference to, say, Paul Wolfowitz’s response to a question about the military — but he needs to loosen up and improvise if he’s going to mention the incidents. Don’t repeat it verbatim. Again.

Take more calls, but be smart about about it. OFF relies far too much on prepared material of dubious humor quality, like the Scalia/Cheney duck hunting recording. The show needs the jolt of randomness that comes from a good call, it gives Al something to play off of, and every now and then there’s something really great like the woman who called in today with information about how the President’s under oath when he’s giving the State of the Union speech. Al has a tendency to be too polite to people who need to be cut off, though.

Don’t fall into the partisan trap. A woman from Minnesota called yesterday, saying that John Kerry needed to speak more plainly if he’s going to have a chance to win this November. Al seemed a little flummoxed for a moment, then decided to take it as a criticism and turned it into a call for George W. Bush to tell the truth. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention, maybe he misunderstood the caller, but she had a good point and was just trying to explain what Kerry needed to do to win. Al needs to make sure he’s not just being as reactionary as the guys on the other side.

Use Katherine Lanpher more. She’s great when she’s asking questions of callers or interviewees. She deserves to be doing more than acting as a foil for Al when nobody else in on the phone or in the studio.

One thing I hope that OFF can stay away from is the type of slur another Air America host, Randi Rhodes, indulges in, like playing songs about how much Condoleezza Rice looks like a snake. I don’t like the woman, either, but it’s got nothing to do with her appearance. It’s awfully easy to attack people for their looks, certainly you see plenty of that from people like Limbaugh, who wasn’t above attacking Chelsea Clinton when she was twelve years old.

I’ll cross my fingers.

John Kerry Wrong On Spain

Sunday, John Kerry issued a statement expressing his regret that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero hadn’t reversed his decision on a withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Zapatero campaigned on a platform that included a troop pullout. He’s stated any number of times since his election that unless political and military control of Iraq was turned over to the UN by the end of June, that his government would proceed with that plan.

American commentators have insisted that the Spanish electorate and the new government were “scared” by the terrorist attacks in Madrid just days before the election. Kerry seems to be buying into the same myth.

The current Iraqi occupation authority is obviously incompetent. After more than a year, there’s no civil order. Even before the current wave of violence, there was no effective authority. Kidnapping, robbery, and other crimes of violence have made Iraqi citizens less safe than they were under Saddam Hussein. The plan to turn over governance to an as-yet-unnamed Iraqi administration doesn’t address the reality of providing safety for citizens and occupying troops.

The Zapatero administration seems to be doing exactly what they promised to do before the elections. So far, they’re not letting terrorists, a disapproving George Bush, and now the tut-tutting of John Kerry affect their policies.

Short Vision

In an April 8 commentary on remaking the Middle East played on public radio’s “Marketplace”, Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute stated that the U.S. can no longer look the other way, and that we must take an active role in the shape of governments in the region. His view of history seems rather short, however, because we’ve been heavily involved — mostly for the worse — in reshaping the Middle East for over fifty years. The U.S. installed the Shah of Iran in the 1950s and supported a repressive reign there that led directly to the rise of the religious theocracy of Ayatollah Khomeini a quarter century ago. The U.S. supported Saddam Hussein through the his war with Iran and the gassing of Kurdish villages, virtually up to the time he invaded Kuwait nearly fifteen years ago. And the U.S. supplied arms and money to religious fighters in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s to thwart the Soviet occupation, paving the way for the Taliban’s takeover of that country in 1996 and the subsequent establishment of terrorist training camps where Osama bin Laden orchestrated the destruction of the World Trade Center. In each case, the U.S. “plan” neglected to take into account the needs of the local population, fostering actual torture, war, and civil unrest in the name of supposed regional stability. I, too, believe Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan would be better off with some form of secular democratic government. But if they’re undertaken as our previous Middle East ventures have been — which perhaps Donnelly could read up on before his next opinion piece — without any real regard for the supposed beneficiaries, the results are likely to be just as unsatisfactory in the long run.


President Bush has been described by former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil as “incurious”, a trait that seems to be shared by the rest of his administration.

One glaring example of this lack of curiosity has been Bush’s repeated claim that if the government had known about a plan to attack New York or Washington with planes flown by terrorists, they they’d have done something about it. Sure, who wouldn’t?

National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission today repeated the party line a number of times. That seems to indicate a fairly restricted view of the situation.

There’s virtually no way short of a miracle that any intelligence agency can get wind of the specifics of something like the 9/11 plot. It was accomplished with a small group of dedicated people, on a small budget, with virtually no equipment. Waiting to get details of the plan — apparently the only way the administration would act — would never prevent the next attack. Someone needs to be asking questions, trying to figure out what types of threats are realistic, and actively searching for threats.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
—Edmund Burke

One Man’s Atrocity…

Thank God Kathleen Parker can restrain herself. In a syndicated column this week, the Orlando Sentinel writer is just so mad about the “zoo animals we witnessed gleefully jumping up and down after stomping, dragging, dismembering and hanging the charred remains of American civilians whose only crime was to try to help them” that she could just “nuke the Sunni Triangle”. Given the adjectives used in most of the non-opinion press coverage, it’d be a safe bet to say that Parker’s feelings are shared by a lot of people in the U.S.

The deaths of the four civilian contractors were an atrocity. It would be preferable to find and prevent the perpetrators from attacking again. That the crowd took the men’s bodies and desecrated them is appalling. Though, if that was sufficient grounds for nuclear retaliation, and given different circumstances 80 years ago, Ms. Parker might be living in a different portion of this country, given that a big swath of central Florida might have been somewhat less hospitable due to its penchant for lynching, arson, and burning at the stake.

What boggles my mind about most of the reactions I’ve seen to this incident is that the very same people seem wholly indifferent to civilian casualties in Iraq. Thousands of people have died. The Associated Press’ intentionally conservative count, which excluded military casualties and only included victims who had been brought to hospitals, was 3,240 just for the period of March 20 to April 20 of last year. Many of those early deaths were to bombs, building collapse, and fire. The bodies of many of those casualties were just as gruesome as the scenes from Fallujah; the main difference was that they weren’t seen on U.S. TV. The relatives and neighbors who had to bury them saw the bodies, though, and in some cases so did much of the rest of the world. It didn’t suit the tenor of the U.S. media at the height of the invasion to do so, however. CNN called the Fallujah attack “horrific”. Yeah, it is. So is having your neigborhood bombed because someone “thought” Saddam Hussein was there, and having your family die when the apartment you lived in is destroyed. It’s all people doing the dying, whoever’s doing the killing, with whatever weapons they’re using, and from whatever distance it’s being done.

Eternal Darkness of the Spotless Mind

Doesn’t anyone at the White House read? Or have they been using the Lacuna device?

Former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke went on “60 Minutes” last night and described the Bush response to 9/11 as “botched”. In his efforts to discredit Clarke, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan questioned why Clarke is only now bringing the matter up, asking
“If Dick Clarke had such grave concerns, why wait so long?”

I know Ari Fleischer was the press secretary in the summer of 2002, but McClellan must have been living in a political hole to have missed “Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?”. It was just the COVER STORY IN TIME MAGAZINE for August 4, 2002, less than a year after the attacks. It’s full of stories about Clarke’s attempts to clue the Administration to the problem, like this one describing a meeting a couple of months after Bush took office:

By now, Clarke’s famously short fuse was giving off sparks. A participant at one of the meetings paraphrases Clarke’s attitude this way: “These people are trying to kill us. I could give a f___ if Musharraf was democratically elected. What I do care about is Pakistan’s support for the Taliban and turning a blind eye to this terrorist cancer growing in their neighbor’s backyard.”

Vice President Dick Cheney told Rush Limbaugh (also referenced in the CNN article) that Clarke doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he “wasn’t in the loop” on major decisions. Let’s examine that for a second. Either Cheney’s telling a lie in an effort to deflect Clarke’s rather damning accusations, or he’s telling the truth, and the adminstration was making their decisions on how to combat terrorism without consulting their counterterrorism chief. Not a good set of options.

Who Won?

The cultural chauvinism of US pundits has been in full swing since the elections in Spain over the weekend. New York Times columnist David Brooks leads off this morning’s opinion piece: “I am trying not to think harshly of the Spanish.” Well, la-di-dah, Mr. Brooks.

In the minds of most of the pro-war opinionators, the Spanish “caved” (one of last night’s banners from MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country”) to terrorists by electing José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as prime minister over José María Aznar, despite the fact that Aznar had joined the US “Coalition of the Willing” (COW) against the wishes of some 90% of the voters last year. Guys, that’s democracy. Sure, Aznar’s party was up a few points in the polls before the bombings last week, but so was Howard Dean before he landed in third place in the Iowa caucuses.

In the minds of Brooks and his ilk, the Spanish are now no better than the French; shameful sheep who can be terrorized into “appeasement”. I have to say, he doesn’t seem to have had a very high opinion of one of the primary partners in the COW. You have to wonder what he thinks of the Italians.

What I find intriguing is that at the same time Spanish voters are repudiated for supposedly letting a terrorist attack affect their elections, US voters are being urged by ads for George W. Bush to vote for him because — wait for it — of September 11.

Nader Announces Intentions

Ralph Nader announced his candidacy for President this morning. I, for one, wasn’t particularly surprised.

The past couple of months have seen abundant hand-wringing over the possibility of a Nader candidacy on the part of Democrats both left and center. If they’d take some time off from the vilification and listen to the man, maybe they still have a chance to redeem themselves.

My own feeling in 2000 was that Al Gore made an incredibly stupid mistake when he didn’t insist that Nader be allowed to participate in the debates. Nader is far more articulate than either Gore or George W. Bush. And while Gore’s not the most flexible person in the world, he would have performed far better under the attacks Nader would doubless have sent his way than Bush — who was already notorious for getting flustered in non-scripted situations — would have.

Fast-forward to 2004. However much energy the Democratic Party spends excoriating Nader for daring to run, it’s just going to take away from the monumental task of battling the Bush campaign war chest.

Moreover, unless Nader’s claims that the Republicans and Democrats are essentially the same party are true, all the eventual Democratic candidate need do is point out where Nader’s analysis is incorrect. Blaming Nader for the party’s own failures four years ago is pointless. Tell the American people why the Democratic vision is a better one. Don’t get into a debate with Bush and say you agree with him. Run against Bush, not Nader.


Back in October, I had a few bones to pick with a piece by cartoonist Chip Bok. Then, Wednesday, when I got stuck in traffic on I84, I ran across Victor Boc.

I was on my way to teach my Flash class across the river at Clark College. The last three times I’d headed out for class, it’d taken an hour or more to drive the eight miles between my house and the bridge over the Columbia, so I thought I’d try the longer route over I205’s crossing. Ran into a big traffic jam right after I’d exited I84 onto I205.

After 15 minutes or so of sitting in traffic and hearing OPB’s traffic report say everything was all clear (they seem to be about an hour late calling the traffic), I switched over to KPAM, which is difficult to stomach but has regular traffic updates.

So I spend another 15 minutes sitting in traffic listening to this Victor Boc and his callers whining about Tri-Met’s long-running ads stating that 249 cars are off the road because of each bus. Do these people just like to hear themselves on the radio or something? Because they sure don’t sound very smart. There’s a lot of whinging about how the buses pull out into traffic without warning, how they tie up traffic, etc. One guy complains that none of his employees can take the bus, so why should he pay the Tri-Met taxes? Victor agrees. Surprise, surprise. Dude, if other cars are off the road, that’s more road for you!

Finally, after sitting there with a wreck blocking all lanes up ahead of me at the Airport Way exit and watching MAX trains zipping past on their way to the Airport every ten minutes or so, I crank up the cell phone. I don’t seem to be going anywhere fast. I get through, amazingly enough, and I tell the screener that I’m pro-transit, that I’m in the traffic jam they’re mentioning every six minutes, and that I’m watching MAX go by. I think I hear a chuckle in his voice, but I’m not sure. He says to hang on.

I’m in the jam for a while longer. Traffic’s being let through on the shoulder past the wreck way up ahead, and there are four lanes of traffic jockeying for position. I manage after a while to escape on an exit, head back across town to I5. After about 25 minutes on hold, he’s into the middle of a long diatribe on his new topic: why drivers shouldn’t have to slow down for those pesky kids in school zones. Boc and a caller are wondering why police patrolling school zones would set up in the middle of the zone instead of on the edges. I think: “You’re not speeding unless you’re within the zone; you can’t cover both directions of traffic from one of the edges,” and after 25 minutes on hold I give up on the morons and shut off the phone.

A Toast to the Oregonian—Non!

[UPDATED 10 September 2021 to include image and new link.] The Oregonian published an editorial cartoon by the Akron Beacon Journal‘s Chip Bok on August 30, 2003 that made light of the more than 11,000 deaths of mostly elderly French citizens in this summer’s heat wave. Pretty funny stuff (Bok apparently thinks so, because he returned to the subject in mid-September). Darrel wrote a letter to both the editorial board and the Oregonian‘s public editor which, of course, they ignored. Sure, they might apologize about a racially-insensitive “Wizard of Id,” but apparently the French are open for ridicule even when their casualties are nearly 4 times US losses on 9/11.