[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. Greetings once again, ladies and gentlemen. Radio Derb on the air here, and this is your bibulously genial host John Derbyshire with my weekly look at the passing parade. Before proceeding I should just like to assure the more nervous cohort of Radio Derb listeners that none of the following names will occur in the rest of the broadcast: Gaga, D'Brickashaw, van der Sloot.
02 — Gulf oil spill: President's TV address. The President went on TV and spoke to the nation about the oil spill. The Gettysburg Address, it wasn't. He lost me about a minute and a half in, as always happens. Something about the guy's style. So I'm relying here on the transcript very helpfully posted on the White House website.
Whadda we got? Confronted with a big sticky mass of words like this one, I summon up my inner arithmetician. The President's speech was 2700 words long. Imagine that as a stick, a stick of bamboo — you're getting my inner sinologist here, too, folks. This stick of bamboo has seven segments, each one three or four hundred words long. You with me? OK.
Segment 1 was introductory, going over what happened, expressing presidential determination to make things right. [Clip: "We will fight this spill …"] This is boilerplate stuff, so I'll grade it a B for just being too long.
Segment 2 was to tell us how busy the feds have been over the cleanup. [Clip: "Over five and a half million …"] I'll grade it C for too much self-justification.
Segment 3, which you got the feeling came most directly from Obama's lawyerly heart, was about compensating victims of the spill. [Clip: "And BP will pay …"] I'll grade this D. If you're going to set up trial lawyers against people trying to do a useful job of work, I'll side against the lawyers every time, just on instinct.
Segment 4 was how to prevent future spills by fixing alleged regulatory corruption. [Clip: "Oil companies …"] My opinion of federal regulators — and I speak here as someone who has worked in the food-preparation business — is even lower than my opinion of lawyers. There are far too many regulators. The high-level ones are political hacks, the low-level ones power junkies who would shut down every productive enterprise in America if the political hacks let them. Grade C on this segment.
Segments 5 and 6 together were given over to a promo for the president's dream of a grand Kennedy-esque federal program to greenify the U.S. economy. [Clip: "the time to embrace …"] This of course came with warnings that small-minded naysayers will scoff at the beautiful dream. [Clip: "And there are some who believe …"] Thanks for the mention, Mr. President. This gets a grade F. For one thing, it's technological fantasy. For another, this wasn't the place to promote it as two-segment length. And number three, I'm getting seriously bored at this point.
And finally, segment 7 was Yes-We-Can uplift … [Clip: "And yet, time and again …"] … seasoned with some ceremonial Deism. I'm deeply allergic to this kind of thing in general, but I understand it goes over well with people of a less cynical temperament than mine, which is to say, practically all people. I therefore struggled to try to see it as they would see it, but still came away giving a C grade for all those flogged-to-death clichés about if we can land a man on the Moon and so on, and for the president's failure to convey any sincerity in the ceremonial Deism parts. Yo Barack, we all know you're a yuppie agnostic; hire a preacher to do the God stuff.
The part of the speech conservatives most objected to was that double segment, segments 5 and 6, pushing the greenery agenda. I concur. Especially obnoxious to me was that feeble smack-down of the naysayers. [Clip: "And there are some who believe …"] Yes, there, are, Mr. President. And why do we believe that? Because we know a thing you apparently do not know: that not only can the federal government not afford this grandiose scheme of yours, or any of your other grandiose schemes, it can't even afford its current obligations. And knowing our federal government, even if they could afford it, they'd manage to bugger it up somehow.
03 — Gulf oil spill: How do we stop it? Here's a curiosity about the president's speech that nobody else seems to have noticed: it didn't say one word about how the gusher is to be stopped. Not one word.
A strange omission, and a very informative one. So how do we stop the leak? It's entirely possible that we can't.
If you go read the technical websites, read what experienced oil industry engineers are saying, you start to notice that more technical the site, the more pessimistic they are. The phrase that keeps coming up is "down hole leak." Here's what it means.
Situation One: The oil is sitting there way down below the seabed, trapped in rock strata that have other rock strata — different kinds of rock, different strengths, different densities — layered over them. That oil is very thoroughly trapped. It has no way out.
Situation Two: You drill a hole down through all those layers of different rocks to where the oil is. The oil's going to come up that hole under a lot of pressure — especially if, on top of those protecting layers of rock, you have a mile's worth of ocean pressing down on the system. Problem: You want the oil coming up the hole and out, not seeping off into vulnerable rock types at the sides of the hole. So you line your hole with steel casing, and you fill the space between the outside of the casing and the inner rock wall of the bore hole with a special cement. Your steel casing is cemented in. When a good length of steel casing is cemented in, you top off your system with a blowout preventer — a humongous valve that will shut off flow if there's a sudden surge. That's your system.
The great fear being voiced by the techies is that the casing and its cementing is compromised, so that this high pressure oil is being forced sideways into those upper rock strata. The sheer pressure of the oil then compromises those strata, so that you have a spreading menace. So then, even if you could drop a gigantic cork into the bore hole and stop the oil gushing out of it, the next thing you would see is the surrounding sea bed, for miles around, fissuring open with oil gushing out of the fissures.
And in fact this might happen anyway, even absent the cork (which, of course, we don't actually have). If the whole upper borehole structure crashes in on itself, sealing itself … same effect. As one industry expert put it, quote: "The very least damaging outcome is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more," end quote.
That's the least damaging — no miles and miles of seafloor fissures. Once again: The best we may be able to hope for is that this thing just goes on doing what it's doing, for ever. Isn't that nice. Some problems have no solutions. Some things even politicians can't fix. "Yes we can," meet "No we can't."
04 — Gulf oil spill: The anti-capitalist crusade. In his autobiography, Dreams from my Father, Obama wrote about his brief experience of working in the private sector as being, quote, "behind enemy lines." For a guy who thinks capitalism is the enemy, BP's screw-up in the Gulf of Mexico is an irresistible opportunity to vent.
For the president, and the congresscritters who think the way he does — which would be most of them: having done useful work in the private economy is not a mandatory requirement for entering Congress — BP is a big fat piñata right now.
One thing these capitalism-haters seem not to understand — one of the many, many — is that in the age of the 401K, widespread share ownership, and fast-swelling numbers of retirees depending on market-based pension fund investments, it's not cartoon capitalists in frock coats and top hats who are getting hurt when they swing those piñata sticks, it's John Q. Citizen.
In the particular case of BP, it's John Q. British-Citizen taking the biggest hit: One dollar in every six of British pension funds is provided by BP. John Q. American is on the hook plenty too, though. Americans have a 39 per cent stake in BP, and the company has twice as many American as British employees.
Yeah, BP screwed up, no doubt about it. And sure, it's emotionally very satisfying to yell and shout at BP, drag them before congressional committees, and all the other formalized ways of yelling and shouting. And sure, they should compensate people they've hurt — that's what courts and lawyers are for, to sort that stuff out.
Obama's threats and bluster, though, and his silly $20 billion escrow fund, are just anti-capitalist posturing by a guy who thinks, and actually wrote in his autobiography, that capitalism is the enemy. Human weakness, greed, cruelty, stupidity, and folly are the enemy, Mr. President, the eternal enemy; and capitalism is the economic system that best keeps them in check.
05 — Afghanistan's riches. Since we're talking resource extraction, I'll direct your attention to the Department of Defense briefing this week about the mineral riches lying under the soil of Afghanistan. Iron, copper, cobalt, gold and other prized minerals up to a value of one trillion dollars are waiting there to be mined.
The DoD may be under-estimating: Afghanistan's own top mining official came out to challenge the DoD estimate, saying the true figure is three trillion dollars worth.
Now here's another fact about Afghanistan: the country has a border with China. It's only a teeny border — about forty miles — and it's way up in the high Pamirs, but that isn't keeping the ChiComs out. They've already got a big contract to mine copper, one that cost them 20 million dollars in bribes to Afghan officials — you know, those Jeffersonian democrats we installed to guide Afghanistan into the sunlit uplands of peace, prosperity, and representative government.
The ChiComs don't mind paying bribes in these situations — it comes naturally to them. It's how they do business back home. So … while we're fighting and dying to protect Hamid Karzai's scaly hide, the ChiComs are digging for gold, or at any rate copper. Doesn't it make your heart swell with pride at the skill and savvy of our policy-makers?
06 — Illegal-immigrant Harvard student. Here's 19-year-old Harvard sophomore Eric Balderas, studying biology at that august institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Eric was visiting his family in San Antonio the other day. He got on a plane to go back to Boston for some summer research work, when he was collared by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Turns out he's an illegal immigrant, brought here by his mother when he was four. Now he's looking at a deportation hearing.
Of course, all the bleeding hearts of Boston — which is a lot of bleeding hearts — are petitioning for him to be given residence. Here's Mario Rodas, a member of Harvard's Student Immigrant Movement, quote: "He's like an American, but without documents." Right; and I'm like a member of the Hasty Pudding Club, except that I've never actually been admitted.
Further quote from Mr. Rodas, quote: "These are the kind of people we need in this country, doing research for cancer," end quote. Two points on that: One, what about the American kid who would have Mr. Balderas' place at Harvard if Mr. Balderas didn't have it? Wouldn't he be "the kind of person we need in this country"? Two: Don't they have cancer research in Mexico? Isn't Mr. Balderas the kind of person they need in that country — his country? Who are we to deprive Mexico of his talents?
Well, Mr. Balderas is to have an immigration hearing. In Boston. Same place that Obama's Aunt Zeituni had her hearing. My guess would be that Mexico will go on being deprived of Mr. Balderas' talents, and some American kid somewhere will go on being deprived of a place at Harvard. Just a guess.
07 — Teen sailor. [Clip: "You've got spunk"] I dunno what put me in mind of that … Oh yes, the young lady trying to sail round the world. This was 16-year-old Abby Sunderland of Thousand Oaks, California.
Abby's mast got knocked out by a storm in the Indian Ocean, taking down her satellite phone reception with it. She was eventually rescued by a French boat and is on her way home.
It turns out that Abby's Dad, who has seven kids and is broke, had signed a contract to do a reality TV show about his family shortly after Abby set sail.
Every schoolmarm in the country is sputtering with rage about this. My own infallible guide to the public mood, the New York Post, published three reader letters on the topic. The first accused Abby's parents of child abuse. The second huffed that, quote, "Just when I thought that there might be some morals left in this country, I read about the Sunderlands." The third was from the father of a 16-year-old girl who said he could not fathom how Mr. Sunderland could have allowed Abby to attempt the trip.
Well, here's what I think.
I hereby declare Abby Sunderland my heroine of the week. The girl has spunk. Alas, in today's America, a great many people hate spunk.
08 — Bailing out states & cities. OK, here's the spot you wait for, the one where I tell you to Get a Government Job.
Let's suppose you didn't get a government job. Let's suppose you got a job with a private corporation. And let's suppose that corporation screwed up its financial affairs big-time, so much so it's now in bankruptcy court. What's going to happen to your job?
There's an excellent possibility it will disappear. Even if your job survives the bankruptcy restructuring, you won't ge getting any pay raises soon.
Now suppose you did get a government job with some state or city, and your employer made a pig's ear of their financial affairs. What will happen?
What will happen is, President Obama will send a letter to Capitol Hill urging Congress to allocate 50 billion dollars to help states and cities balance their budgets. Failure to do so, said the president's letter, sent last Saturday, would prevent, quote, "massive layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters."
Laying off public employees? Breaking their iron rice bowls? Unthinkable!
This 50 billion handout, remember, comes just a year and a half after the last stimulus bill, which sent 300 billion to the states and cities. Knowing that Congress will keep the spigot gushing, the states and cities are spending merrily away, taking on more employees, awarding ever bigger contracts, ever more lavish benefits, to the public-sector unions. As we go to tape, New York City is about to finalize a budget that's 3.4 billion over what it was two years ago. ["Happy days are here again …"] With Obama in the White House and Democrats in Congress, they sure are … if you have a government job.
09 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: Clinically insane President-for-Life of Libya Muammar Gaddafy has agreed to pay three billion dollars compensation to victims of the so-called Irish Republican Army. When the IRA was blowing people up in Britain and Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, that was Libyan explosive they were using. The IRA was a fully vested member of the international terrorist conspiracy, and they had fraternal relations with all the Islamist terrorist organizations. I wasted a lot of breath trying to explain this to Irish-American friends and colleagues in that period, with not much luck. Well, here's the evidence. Those dollars you donated to NORAID all went to buy Gaddafy a new set of gold-plated bathroom fixtures. Thanks, suckers.
Item: Quote of the week on the Arizona state law making illegal immigration illegal. This is from a letter written by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to our sinister, repulsive, race-hustling Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder, who as we know couldn't be bothered to read the Arizona law himself, had written to Brewer threatening a Department of Justice lawsuit. Brewer wrote back pointing out that there are already five actions filed challenging the law, and covering every conceivable constitutional objection. Why does the DoJ need to get involved? Then the quote: "I would much prefer for them not to file suit, given the fact that they could take the money and help me build a fence on my border." End quote. Me like this lady.
Item: Nobody can be rude enough about Tony Hayward, the chief executive at BP. Here's congresscritter Tony Weiner, quote: "Whenever you hear someone with a British accent talking about this on behalf of British Petroleum, they are not telling you the truth. That's the bottom line," end quote. Nice. Here's my advice to BP, and any other oil company that doesn't want its executives subjected to Weiner-style personal abuse: get yourself a black CEO. Just a suggestion.
Item: Seventies survivors will remember the name Gary Gilmore. Convicted of murder in Utah, Gilmore scotched all the appeals, demanded execution, and was shot by a firing squad in 1977. Asked if he had any last words, Gilmore replied: "Let's do it!" I remember you could buy T-shirts with a target printed on and the words "Let's do it!" Well, Ronnie Lee Gardner is next up for the Utah firing squad, having exhausted his last appeals this week. A drug addict at age ten, Gardner got the death penalty for a 1985 killing. It took 25 years to get through all the appeals, which in my opinion is a national scandal. "I have a very explosive temper," was Gardner's explanation for his crimes. The State of Utah has some very explosive rifle cartridges, and it's long past time they used them. Let's do it.
10 — Signoff. That's it, ladies and gents. The dogs bark, the caravan moves on. I've had my little bark this week, and I hope it left you refreshed and instructed. Tune in again next week for more of what does you good from Radio Derb!
[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]