Good morning, -stans! Well, maybe at some point . . .

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If Washington wants to get its message out to folks in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, it has to make sure it's got the facilities to carry the spin. Radio is critical, especially in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where illiteracy is the norm and television is nonexistent in most places. But that requires transmission facilities, towers and the like. And that, in turn, requires approval from the respective governments.

So have we gotten all the cooperation we need regarding transmission facilities from the governments in the area? That was the question Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) posed last week to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors at a Senate subcommittee hearing.

Not really, the members said. Iraq hasn't been a problem, they said, but the Pakistani government just recently, and after much delay, gave permission for a series of transmitters for Deewa Radio. And an unnamed Afghan minister -- we understand it's the minister of information -- has been "sitting on our request" for a transmitter for more than a year. This makes AM reception spotty in the Taliban-infested border regions, though shortwave comes through.

"Are they looking for a little gratuity perchance?" Wicker asked. No, no, board member Jeffrey Hirschberg said, the BBG doesn't do that and the law forbids it.

Well, maybe the new Afghan government will get things moving. A lot of taxpayer money, more than $1 million, has been spent on getting the AM network up to snuff.

Radio silence

Speaking of the nine-member BBG, when last we checked in, back in June, the State Department representative, Judith McHale, filled one seat, four others were vacant and all four sitting members were holdovers waiting to be replaced.

Hirschberg's three-year term expired five years ago, member Joaquin Blaya's term expired four years ago, as did Blanquita Cullum's, and Steven Simmons's term ran out three years ago.

The White House was supposed to announce a full slate of four Republicans and four Democrats to fill the board earlier this month. But at the last minute, the White House nixed the nomination of Rick Graber, former head of the Wisconsin Republican Party and more recently ambassador to the Czech Republic in Prague, where he dealt with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went to bat for him, but to no avail.

The reasons for the turnabout are a bit murky, but the word is they may have something to do with the state party's having sent the Bush White House some newspaper article about voter fraud in 2004 when Graber was chairman.

This then apparently morphed into concerns about some relationship with the U.S. attorney firings -- though that scandal didn't focus on Wisconsin. Or it may be that Democrats in Wisconsin had a political ax. In any event, they're looking to fill a GOP opening on the board.

Pop goes the legal

Just when you thought things couldn't get worse for the Heene family -- pop Richard, mom Mayumi, "Balloon Boy" Falcon and his two brothers, Eagle and Hawk. (Actually, Ryo and Bradford.) The parents are looking at prison time for their little stunt, but even the ACLU won't represent them. The ACLU issued a news release Monday night to emphasize that it had nothing to do with the Heenes.

"A number of recent news reports have included an erroneous assertion by Larimer County (Colo.) Sheriff Jim Alderden that the American Civil Liberties Union is representing the Heene Family of Fort Collins, Colo., which is reportedly being investigated for allegedly perpetrating a 'balloon boy hoax' for publicity purposes. Neither the ACLU nor the ACLU of Colorado has any involvement in the representation of the Heene family."

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