[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! This is your lugubriously genial host John Derbyshire, bringing you the week's news.
Lots going on this week so let's get into it without further ado.
02 — Spinning the economy. The economy, the economy. It's hard to tell the difference between the political news and the economic news nowadays. They're both getting spun like crazy. What's the rate of inflation? Three percent if you look at the Consumer Price Index. Eight percent, says the very respectable American Institute for Economic Research. What's the unemployment rate? Depends which one you're talking about: U1, U2, U3, U6.
Wasn't U2 the plane that Gary Powers got shot down in? Causing Khrushchov to bang his shoe on the lectern at the UN? Or was UN the plane and U2 the venue? Ah, things were so much simpler back then. I'm losing track. You need a Ph.D. just to understand what the news commentators are talking about nowadays. Well, we must do our best.
Anyone connected with the administration is talking up the economy, which of course is what they're paid to do and what they should be doing. But then you go to fill up your gas tank and you're looking at sixty bucks, or you read that consumer debt is up 9.3 percent just in December, total now 2.5 trillion, or a report like this one in the New York Times catches your eye, quote:
Headline: To Pay New York Pension Fund, Cities Borrow From It First. Story: Cities throughout the state are managing their rising pension bills by borrowing from the same $140 billion pension fund to which they owe money.
See, localities have to contribute to public-employee pension funds. However, localities are broke. OK, so they borrow the money to pay their pension obligations. They can't just go to the bank and take out a loan, though, because the bank would laugh at them, knowing how chronically broke they are, and how much broker they will surely get in the years to come. So they borrow from the pension funds, to get money to pay their contribution to the pension funds. Brilliant! This is what Bernie Madoff went to jail for.
Well, Ben Bernanke came out on Wednesday to tell us that everything's fine with the economy, not a word about further "stimulus," which is the word we now use for money-printing. He was blasé about inflation, too: no need for interest-rate increases any time soon, nothing to worry about. The price of gold dropped; then next day, when investors concluded they didn't really believe him, it came back up again.
Here's one guy who's not buying what Bernanke is selling: David Miller, a legislator in the state of Wyoming. Rep. Miller has introduced a bill into his state assembly to create a state task force to prepare Wyoming for economic catastrophe. It includes provisions for Wyoming to issue its own currency.
Yeah, I know, it sounds loony. Ask yourself this, though: Is it any more loony than taking out a loan from a fund in order to be able to pay your required contributions into that fund?
I wonder what property prices are like in Wyoming?
03 — Making a deal with the Norks. The long tradition of State Department idiocy in respect of North Korea was honored this week by the umpteenth agreement between the U.S.A. and the Norks, to the general effect that we'll feed their starving peasants if they'll behave themselves for a while. The agreement will break down, of course, as those umpteen similar previous agreements have done; but it keeps the ChiComs and the Russians on side, and spares the South Koreans having to make any difficult decisions, so State thinks it's worth it.
Plus Mrs Clinton gets a nice headline. Who knows? Perhaps she'll even get invited to Pyongyang like Madeleine Albright, and taken to some stadium to smile and clap along while the massed choir of the Democratic People's Army sings "Death to the Bloodsucking American Imperialists!" Who knows.
For the Norks it's all gravy. The leadership still needs time to sort themselves out after the death of Kim Jong Il back in December. This agreement buys them that time. Furthermore, April 15th is the 100th birthday of North Korean President-for-Ever Kim Il Sung, and it would be nice if the citizens of North Korea had some food on their tables during the festivities. So here we go with another bogus agreement.
The basics of the agreement are that the Norks will suspend missile testing and nuke development, and allow Hans Blix to go in with his team of super-sleuths to uncover all their nuclear secrets [Clip: Team America], and in return we'll ship them a quarter million tons of food.
There was no real need for any of this. It's just State Department busywork. It confers no advantage on us. There was nothing wrong or unstable about the status quo ante — the one we've had since 2009, when we stopped sending them food. North Korea's nuke program exists entirely to give them leverage of this kind, without which they'd just be another Laos. The Nork leadership is crazy, but it's a high-IQ style of craziness, and they're not going to be so dumb as to nuke anyone or sell nukes to terrorists. To that degree, they are rational actors.
North Korea is a case for silence and passivity on our part. Unfortunately politicians have trouble keeping silent, and all those bureaucrats at State must be found something to do, or what is the point of their Ivy League degrees?
So here we go for another round of Whack-a-Mole with the Norks under their fascinating new leader, Fatty Arbuckle. They'll win the game, of course. They always do, because they know precisely what they want and don't care how they get it, while we have only vague dreams of international harmony, scruples about standing by while foreign governments deliberately starve their people, and a thousand interest groups to appease.
This game only has one winner, and it's never going to be us.
04 — It's raining apologies. Further evidence that we Americans are the suckers of the world comes from Afghanistan. After two thousand American dead and half a trillion dollars, the Afghans hate us more than ever. Troops of the so-called Afghan National Army whom we've trained and equipped are turning their guns on us, and the Taliban waxes stronger by the hour.
The ructions over part-burned copies of the Koran being found in the garbage dump at a U.S. base continued, with two more Americans shot this week by Afghan "colleagues." That brings the American death toll to six since the rioting began two weeks ago. In this latest incident, two of the killers were themselves killed by retaliatory fire. One of them, sure enough, was an Afghan National Army soldier. The other one is described as a, quote, "literacy instructor." I guess that means he was hired by us to teach Afghan Army guys (I'm pretty sure they're all guys: I somehow don't think females in combat is much of an issue in Afghanistan) how to read and write. We probably trained him in instructional skills — shipped him back to the States, maybe, and put him through a free ESL diploma course at Columbia. I bet his widow and kids, as blood relatives of someone who aided our war effort, will claim refugee status and end up in taxpayer-funded housing in Minneapolis or somewhere. The suckers of the world, that's us.
Well, our president wasn't standing idly by while our soldiers were getting shot in the back by their Afghan brothers-in-arms. No, Sir, he was responding … with apologies. As Radio Derb reported last week, Obama sent a sniveling apology to President Karzai of Afghanistan. (What's Karzai's first name? I forget — someone remind me please. [Ker-ching!] That's it.)
Obama then instructed various other people to apologize: NATO commander General John Allen came out with his own apology, no doubt on adminstration orders. A certain Peter Lavoy, described in the wire reports only as "a top US defense official," actually showed up at mosque in Washington D.C. to apologize to worshippers during Friday prayers last week. I hope he remembered to take his shoes off. I tell you, it's been raining apologies these past few days.
Then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta got his memo from the Oval Office, and out he came like the shepherd on a Swiss clock to give his own apology. Quote: "These actions do not represent the views of the US military," end quote.
Now, I don't want to burst your bubble or anything, Mr Secretary, but while the careerist seat-warmers you hang out with at the Pentagon may indeed be tut-tutting over those charred Korans, I get a certain amount of email from serving troops in theater, and I do have to tell you … Well, perhaps I'd better not tell you what the guys in the field are saying. Number one, I might breach some secrecy law or code of honor by doing so. Number two, your head might explode.
05 — Stuff happening in Syria. Lot of stuff happening in Syria. Lot of stuff.
06 — Russia's election. Here's a country that is important: Russia. Huge country — the biggest in the world by land area, 70 percent bigger than number two. Number nine by population, 140 million. Masses of natural resources, strategic location straddling north Eurasia, U.N. Security Council veto, full nuclear arsenal. Definitely an important country.
Well, of that 140 million, around 110 million will be going to the polls on Sunday to vote for a new president. The Russian electorate is spoiled for choice, with five candidates to pick from.
Way out in front is of course Vladimir Putin, the current Prime Minister. That's a bit of a sham. Putin served two four-year terms as president, which is as many consecutive terms as the Russian constitution allows. So he stepped down in 2008 to become Prime Minister while a close ally from his own party filled in at the Presidency. Now Putin's back; and now the presidential term's been changed to six years, so if Putin does two more terms, he could be with us until 2024, by which time he will have been running Russia for almost a quarter of a century.
Putin's support runs around fifty percent in reasonably objective polls, so with four other candidates splitting the rest, he's a pretty good bet. That's not even to mention the endless possibilities for electoral hanky-panky in a country this big, this corrupt, and this long under Putin's thumb and patronage.
The Communist Party's still alive, and in fact polling second behind Putin, with around fifteen percent. Their main appeal, aside from nostalgia for the Soviet glory days, seems to be that of all the non-Putin parties, they are the only one clearly independent of the Putin apparatus. The other parties are all more or less under suspicion of having been bought by Putin, precisely in order to split the opposition vote. The communist candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, is an old Soviet warhorse who makes speeches against capitalism, imperialism, and so on. He has that nostalgia appeal to older voters, but his main selling point is that he's the real leader of a real party not in Putin's pocket.
Number three is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, polling around eight percent. This is the ultra-nationalist guy who wants to recover Alaska, form an alliance with the Muslim world against the West, and, I don't know, get a Moon colony of 13,000 up and running. Something like that. At least, that's what he wanted last week; Zhirinovsky's kind of erratic in his pronouncements; but I guess eight percent of Russians like the idea of sticking it to America and Europe.
Below that at six percent in the polls is 46-year-old Michael Prokhorov, the baby of the bunch. Prokhorov's a Yeltsin billionaire — which is to say, the foundation of his wealth was the chaotic early 1990s, when Soviet industrial assets were passing into private hands by means both fair and foul, but mostly foul. Prokhorov doesn't seem to have been the worst of that time, but the fact that he got rich then, like that, dims his appeal for those Russians who resent the looting of their national economy … which is to say, most Russians.
Prokhorov is colorful, though, or at least tries hard to be. He's majority-owner of the New Jersey Nets, and a business partner of rapper Jay-Z. On the strength of that, he delivered some rap himself on a Russian TV chat show. Sample: [Clip] You get the idea. Why does the young Steve Martin come to mind? [Clip: "I am a wild and crazy guy …""]
Down at the bottom of the pack, polling five percent, is the Fair Russia party, a European-style soft-left outfit headed up by Sergey Mironov. They mainly vote with Putin's people in the Russian parliament. When Russians tell you that the other parties, except the communists, have all been bought by Putin, it's Fair Russia they especially have in mind.
Odds are we'll be looking at a Putin victory on Sunday. In the unlikely event he doesn't break 50 percent, there'll be a runoff with the number two. It could be worse. Putin's a gangster, but a disciplined one, unlike Yeltsin. Of the others, Zhirinovsky's barmy, the communist is a communist, and Fair Russia is so pro-Putin we might as well have Putin.
Only Prokhorov's a palatable alternative; he's also the only one not viciously anti-American. He's young, vigorous, smart, and understands capitalism. At six percent in the polls, Prokhorov's not going to be the next Russian president; but for what it's worth, Radio Derb endorses him anyway.
07 — Tibetans burn. All right, Syria's an inconsequential place, Russia's an important one. It is possible, though, for a country to be inconsequential in itself, yet for its affairs to have major indirect importance.
That's not the case with Syria, which is unimportant in every conceivable dimension. Consider, however, Tibet.
At a first look, you'd have to think there couldn't possibly be any place less important than Tibet: Stuck way up there in the Himalayas, economy based on yak butter, no oil, no coastline, not much of anything. Why is a leading news organization like Radio Derb even reporting on the place?
Well, because of China, which is important, aside from being my country-in-law. China currently occupies Tibet, though Tibet's base population is non-Chinese and greatly resents the occupation. In spite of a fearsome level of repression by the Chinese communists, there are regular protests and occasional riots, not just in the so-called "Tibet Autonomous Region" you see in your atlas, but all over historic Tibet, which is more than twice the size of the "Autonomous Region" and includes Qinghai Province and swathes of Sichuan.
March is particularly riot-prone in Tibet. It was in March 1959 that the biggest uprising against Chinese rule started; and it was later that same March that the present Dalai Lama fled from his country into India. You pretty much always get riots in Tibet in March. The 2008 riot season was especially active. Those riots were of course followed by massive repression, but the Tibetans struggle gamely on, in a way you have to admire, whether you think it's any of your business or not.
Most recently protests have taken the form of Tibetan monks and nuns burning themselves to death in public. There were at least a dozen cases last year, and the pace is increasing, with five known self-immolations just in February.
The other thing happening in March is that China's rubber-stamp parliament is meeting in Peking. Riots in Tibet will spoil the image of a smoothly functioning modern state. So Tibet's under lockdown, with internet and mobile phone services severely curtailed.
All right: but as I said, the place is of no intrinsic importance at all. So why should we care about any of this?
Here's why. China is a huge country with a huge population — the world's biggest — a population of capable and energetic people. One way or another, China's going to be a great force in the world this century, and she should be.
China, however, badly needs political reform if she's not going to be a danger to the rest of us. However, it's hard to see how reform is possible while China is occupying these huge tracts of land — Tibet and Eastern Turkestan — populated by non-Chinese peoples who bitterly resent their occupiers. For a big land empire to reform, it needs to abandon occupied lands and concentrate on its metropolitan ethnic core. Think of the Ottoman Empire, or for that matter Russia.
China won't be a healthy, normal country until it gets out of the imperialism business. Any sign that that's happening will be a hopeful sign for the future, for China and for all of us. I don't see any such sign today, but if one shows up, it will likely relate to Tibet.
That's why Tibet, even though as unimportant as a country can be in itself, is worth watching: because of what events in Tibet mean for China, which is important.
08 — GOP primaries. The presidential primary season continues to drag its weary length along. Mitt Romney won Arizona and Michigan, and looks set fair for a good sweep of the ten states voting next Tuesday, Super Tuesday. Romney might be embarrassed in Ohio, where Rick Santorum's polling well, and in Georgia, where both Santorum and Gingrich look good. However, Mitt's had so many near-death experiences at this point, it's highly unlikely he'll emerge from Super Tuesday next week with any droop in his smile or any hairs out of place.
I sure hope so, anyway. You need to be a lot more interested in politics than I am to still be getting excited about this stuff. Romney's all right. He's smart and experienced. If anybody can do anything about the coming fiscal catastrophe, which I actually doubt, but if anyone can, it's much more likely him than Santorum or the Pilsbury Doughboy. Let's settle for Willard, and get down to the business of defeating Obama.
And let's face it: Compared to what the Republican Party's delivered to us previously, Romney looks terrific. Think of John McCain, George W. Bush, and Bob Dole. See what I mean? Last time I took this tack, I threw Bush 41 into the mix too; but emailers took me to task, saying Poppy, while certainly no Reagan, was a capable middle-rank president, and I have to grudgingly admit they have a point.
And I'm betting that Romney, if elected, will resemble Poppy Bush much more than he'll resemble Reagan. That's nothing for conservatives to be very thrilled about, but it's no occasion for despair.
Somehow this republic has arrived in the early 21st century with two big political parties, one left of center and the other one a teensy-weensy bit to the right of that — sort of right of left of center. Under either party public expenditures and the national debt creep up, the friction between races and classes gets worse, the welfare rolls swell, immigration policy remains a shambles, and we maintain huge military establishments in places like Germany and Japan that could take care of their own defenses.
Under either party, pointless laws and regulations proliferate, while crooks and tax-eaters game the system for their own profit. Under either party the fond dream of a united country with a common culture, and with decent jobs for all — jobs you can raise a family on in a pleasant neighborhood — recedes further into the misty past.
Mitt Romney isn't going to stop any of those trends; but at least he won't accelerate them, as the Obama administration has done — and will continue to do if Obama is re-elected in November.
I don't hope for anything conservative out of a Romney administration; but then, I gave up hoping for anything conservative from any administration several years ago.
Conservatism is just a fantasy. You'll never pay any less tax than you do now. The number of pages in the Federal Register will never stop increasing and start decreasing. The TANF and food stamp rolls will never shrink. The Commerce Clause will continue to be used by the feds to justify any expansion of their power they decide upon. Government meddling in health care and college education will continue to make these goods ever more expensive. The State Department will never stop shoveling your money to Third World dictators and calling it "foreign aid." Illegal immigrants will never leave.
There are just two reasons to vote Republican rather than Democrat. One is that with a Republican president making judicial appointments, the general level of jurisprudential insanity will be somewhat lowered, and in particular we have a chance to keep goofy liberal justices in a minority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The other is that you'll have a better shot, so to speak, at holding on to your Second Amendment rights under a Republican administration. All politicians are scared of the NRA, I'm happy to say, but the chance of a leftist administration pushing federal anti-gun legislation through Congress is always there. With a Republican in the White House, even a RINO, the danger is much less. Hold on to those guns: you might be needing them.
09 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: It's been a while since we pressed Radio Derb listeners to Get a Government Job. Well, here's a poster boy for getting a government job, this from the March 1st Baltimore Sun. You need to know that the CEO of the Baltimore school system is a bloke named Andrés Alonso. OK, here's the quote:
The cash-strapped Baltimore school system has paid more than $14 million in overtime over the past four years … The top overtime earner in 2011 was Alonso's driver — a school police sergeant hired in 1975 who has worked as chauffeur to city school superintendents for two decades. The sergeant, Ralph Askins, more than doubled his $76,819 wages, logging roughly $78,000 in overtime last year. He made more than Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose salary is $150,000, and about the same as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who makes $155,000. In addition, he earned more than the highest-paid educator in any city school.
End quote. Once again, listeners, if you haven't got on the gravy train yet, there are still seats up front. Get a Government Job
Item: This one grabbed my attention. It's from the CBS station in Philadelphia. Apparently a maiden of that city, 14-year-old Alyssa Kramer, can say words backwards. She made a video clip of herself doing it and posted it on YouTube: it got a million hits. This is quite a new phenomenon to me, I must say. I have reason to think my research assistant Brandy has some expertise at doing things backward, so let me consult her. Ah, what do you think about this story, Brandy? The girl in Philadelphia taking backwards? [Talking backwards.] Right. Thanks, honey. Why don't you go upstairs now and check the water temperature in the grotto? I'll be up there shortly.
Item: Who was this scheduled to appear in court this Thursday? Why, it was Onyango Obama, the president's uncle. He was supposed to come up before the beak on a drunk driving charge. What, another one? No, this is the same incident we reported on back in our September 2nd broadcast last year. Yes, it's taken the authorities in Framingham, Massachusetts six months to assign Mr Obama a court date. And as it turned out, even that schedule was a little too brisk: the case has been postponed, so Mr Obama didn't appear in court after all. Perhaps in another six months, who knows? Mr Obama is of course an illegal immigrant, so in this nation not of men but of laws, fairly and equitably applied, he may very well have been deported by the time his next court date rolls around. [Laughter.]
Item: Finally, an interesting little story from the February 28 New York Times. This concerns the Chukchansi Indian tribe, out there in California. The tribe controls, or is a front for those who control, the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, an hour or so's drive north of Fresno. That's a nice little earner for the tribal chiefs. Unfortunately there's been a dispute over who actually are the rightful chiefs; so war paint has been put on, war drums have been beating, and tomahawks have been flying. The Bureau of Indian Affairs wants nothing to do with the dispute, saying it's an internal tribal matter. As we go to tape here on Radio Derb, there is still no resolution, only heap plenty broken windows in the casino. What made me smile about the story was the names of the rival chiefs battling for control of the tribe. Their names are: Morris Reid and Reggie Lewis. What happened to those nice colorful Indian names? — Yellow Wolf, Touch the Clouds, Conquering Bear, Spotted Elk, … to pick a few at random from Wikipedia. Morris Reid and Reggie Lewis. The world's a drab place nowadays, isn't it?
10 — Signoff. Drab or not, we're stuck with it, and must do our best to understand it. That's why you listen to Radio Derb.
There'll be more from us next week, when I shall be at the lovely campus of Hillsdale College, spreading my gospel of gloom to students and faculty there, who I am given to understand have fallen into cheerfulness. I'll soon fix that.
For now it remains only to note that this week gave us a leap day, February 29, Rossini's birthday — his 52nd, if I've counted right. Here in his honor is the great Maria Callas singing the rondo from Rossini's La Cenerentola. It's the Cinderella story: Now, at the end of the opera, Cinderella's found her prince and she sings joyfully of her good fortune: "Nacqui all'affano al pianto …," — "I was born to sorrow and tears." One of my favorites.
[Music clip: Callas, "Nacqui all'affano."]