»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, July 15, 2011

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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]

01 — Intro.     Greetings, ladies and gents. This is Radio Derb, your trusted source for news and commentary, broadcasting to you from our sumptuous state-of-the-art sound studio here on the 95th floor of Buckley Towers in the heart of Manhattan. I am your empathetically genial host John Derbyshire, and before we begin this week there's a small matter I'd like to clear up.

Success and power naturally bring with them enmity. So it has proven for Radio Derb. Our enemies are legion, and they have been unscrupulous in putting about rumors and slanders. One canard currently circulating claims that my fearless and dedicated research assistants Mandy, Candy, and Brandy do not in fact exist — that they are mere fig newtons of my imagination.

This is of course absurd. Radio Derb would be a limp and sorry thing indeed without the tireless attentions of my research assistants. To quash these evil rumors, I am going to close this broadcast with a special show put on for us by the girls. That will be something for you all to look forward to as we survey the sorry state of our country and the world this midsummer weekend.

02 — Debt limit negotiations.     Another week of wrangling over the federal debt limit. Main events this week:

  • Saturday:  John Boehner, Speaker of the House, once again ruled out President Obama's proposed tax increases on corporate jets, oil companies, and rich folk in general. The battle lines remained where they had been: Republicans — no tax hikes; Democrats — no entitlement cuts.

  • Sunday:  There was a one-hour meeting Sunday evening between the President and Congressional leaders. Nobody agreed to anything.

  • Monday:  Lots of action Monday. Obama held a presser at which he told Americans to eat our peas. Nobody quite understood what he was talking about. The President may have been hoping to stir grass-roots Democrats to launch a Pea Party movement, but the grass roots remained firmly in the soil, sucking in nutrients from the taxpayers of America. The New York Post ran the inevitable headline In Pod We Trust; Michele Bachmann said, quote, "Everybody needs to get their feathers down and not get ruffled," end quote, thereby further confusing the metaphor situation; Joe Biden bared his shiny capped teeth at Eric Cantor and told him to, quote, "Get real"; and the U.S.A. Dry Pea and Lentil Council issued a statement declaring that it was the first time they had ever been asked to issue a statement.

  • Tuesday:  Senate graybeard Mitch McConnell proposed letting the President raise the debt ceiling as much and as often as he wants, but only after asking three times, like a Saudi prince divorcing. Oh, and McConnell wants a deficit-reduction commission. Er, didn't we already have one — Simpson-Bowles? Wasn't that a deficit-reduction commission? I guess deficit-reduction commissions are to Congresscritters what potato chips are to the rest of us: you can't have just one. Also on Tuesday, President Obama himself filmed a segment of the CBS news program 60 Minutes in which he warned that Social Security checks won't go out after August 2nd if Congress won't raise the debt limit. Ah, the good old Democrat stand-by: poor old Granny shoved out penniless into the snow. Meanwhile puns about peas metastasized from their natural home in the tabloid press to news outlets in general, with rampant headlines urging Give Peas a Chance, calling for Peas in Our Time, or charging the President with a Peas Offensive.

  • Wednesday:  Gallup released a poll showing that only 22 percent of Americans want their member of Congress to vote for a raise to the debt ceiling, while 42 percent want their guy to vote against a raise and the other 36 percent responded to the pollster's question by just giggling and picking their noses. Bond-rating agency Moody's said that if someone didn't do something, they'd do something that would prove beyond doubt they know what everyone else knew three weeks ago. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before the House Financial Services Committee. He told them if the economy doesn't improve he's ready to squirt more fake money at it. Stocks went up.

  • Thursday:  Ben Bernanke testified for a second day before the House Financial Services Committee. He told them he didn't see any need for more stimulus right now. Stocks went down. Also on Thursday China urged the U.S. to, quote, "adopt responsible policies." Oh, OK: let's beat some Tibetan nuns to death, fire missiles over Taiwan, and jail a Nobel Peace Prize winner. How would that be?

  • Friday:  The Wall Street Journal ran a leader favoring the McConnell plan. While the zeal of Tea Party Republicans is admirable, said the Journal, they're forgetting they control only one house in Congress and zero houses named "White." Let Obama own a failing economy, says the leader, and let him still be owning it next Summer. As short-term politics this is pretty good, but I still think we should let the boil burst.

The politics of the thing are very high-stakes. Obama wants to get re-elected, so he wants some kind of deal that will keep the lid on until after next November. He probably thinks the McConnell plan would work fine for him. Of course we would then be facing the same crisis all over again, only with bigger numbers; but that's arithmetic, not politics.

Congressional Republicans don't want to break the hearts of the Tea Party. A lot of House freshmen are Tea Partiers themselves, and just won't go along with a deal that raises taxes. Senior Republican seat-warmers — people like McConnell and McCain and Boehner — probably look down on the Tea Party as straw-chewing rubes who keep coal in their bathtubs and chickens in the yard, but they fear losing the Tea Party anyway, as if "Tea Party" becomes "Third Party," the GOP could be looking at another 1992.

Congressional Democrats have their base to appease too — the NPR and New York Times latte-liberal cohorts who believe that if we just ground a few corporate jets, string up a few oil company execs, and print a few trillion greenbacks, we'll be able to go on living as we have been, and concentrate our political energies on what's really important — global warming.

At the back of all the politicians' minds are the questions: if no deal leads to default, then (1) what will happen? and (2) who will get blamed?

So far as the blame issue is concerned, the Republicans are looking at those Wednesday Gallup numbers and hoping: "Not us!" The Democrats are recalling 1995 and hoping: "Not us!" Nobody really knows, though; and nobody knows the answer to the first question either. It's double uncertainty. For all their strutting and bluster, politicians are timid creatures who hate taking chances. The possibility of some kind of deal is therefore not to be ruled out.

If there is a deal, the can will have been kicked down the road. It will still be there a year or so from now, only twice as big.

Radio Derb's take is the same as always. We don't believe any conceivable action by this or any conceivable Congress will stop federal spending from rising and the federal government from taking over more and more of the national life. Restraint on federal spending is just not politically possible this side of some great systemic crisis.

That crisis is therefore inevitable; and as is the case with any crisis, the longer you put it off, the worse it is when it finally happens. Let's face this one now. No tax hikes; no commissions; no new presidential powers. We've been retreating for long enough before the advance of government power. Let's stand and fight.

03 — Gaza non-flotilla.     The great non-event of the last few days has been the Gaza flotilla. Remember the Gaza flotilla? That was the fleet of 300 or so Islamic terrorists and Western useful idiots in nine or ten ships that was supposed to sail for the Gaza Strip two weeks ago to defy Israel's sea blockade of the place.

The flotilla never happened. Why not? The short answer is that none of the significant national actors in the region wanted it to.

Israel most obviously did not want it to. The fiasco last year, when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish boat, were attacked by the activists, and killed nine of them in subsequent fighting — that fiasco cost Israel dearly, freezing relations with Turkey, the only important Islamic country even halfway friendly with Israel.

The fact that Israel was very keen for this year's flotilla not to sail may not be altogether unconnected with strange mishaps that befell some of this year's flotilla ships. A Swedish ship docked in Greece and an Irish ship docked in Turkey both found themselves disabled, both in curiously similar ways: damage inflicted underwater to their propellors and propellor shafts. Very odd.

It rather looks as though Turkey also did not want the flotilla to sail. The flagship was to have been the Mavi Marmara, the very ship that was boarded by those Israeli commandos last year. The ship was sponsored by the same Turkish Islamist charity as last year. However, the organization said that last year's damages had not been repaired so the ship could not sail. Funny they were so late realizing this.

The other ships, including the new flagship, named Audacity of Hope after Barack Obama's campaign slogan (which Obama borrowed from one of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons) and filled with North American lefty nitwits, were all docked in Greece. The Greeks would not let them sail, though. Audacity of Hope tried to make a run for it, but the Greek Coast Guard went after them, brought the ship back, and threw the captain in jail. The captain, John Klusmire, is a U.S. citizen. He's being held on charges of trying to leave port without permission and endangering the lives of passengers.

The deep background to all this is a three-nation dance currently going on between Israel, Greece, and Turkey.

At the time the state of Israel was founded in the late 1940s, Turkey, like the Soviet Union, saw this as a poke in the eye for British and French imperialism. The Turks had been on the losing side in World War One. At the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 the victorious powers tried to carve up the remains of the Ottoman Empire, including the Turkish homeland itself. The Turks have held a mighty grudge about that ever since. Furthermore the Turks had long held the Arabs in contempt for (a) treachery in helping the European powers bring down the Ottoman Empire, then (b) cowardice in allowing the Europeans to seize their lands, by contrast with the Turks, who'd successfully fought to get their homeland back.

So Turkey recognized the state of Israel in 1949, and developed a good relationship. There were military ties: Turkey's navy and air force benefited greatly from Israeli equipment and technical advice.

When the Islamist AKP came to power in Turkey in 2001, somewhat of a chill set in. The Turks maintained diplomatic relations, but championed the Palestinian cause and built up friendly ties with Syria, with whom Turkey shares its longest border, 320 miles.

Turkish-Greek relations have been famously bad, in part again a hangover from the Treaty of Sèvres, which awarded Greece a big chunk of western Turkey that the Turks had to fight a vicious war to get back, and in part because of the Turkish occupation of north Cyprus in 1974.

Israel's relations with Greece have been the mirror-image of her relations with Turkey. When Turkey and Israel were pals, through the last half of the 20th century, Greece was hostile to Israel. As Israel-Turkey relations have cooled this ten years past, Israel has courted Greece, with much success.

The Turks seem now to be having second thoughts. Instead of being a new Best Friend, Syria is turning out to be a major nuisance, with the civil disorder there sending floods of refugees towards Turkey, and the incapacity of the Syrian government negating any benefits from the friendship. Israel and Turkey are trying to kiss and make up after the killing of those Turks in last year's flotilla incident.

With Greece's financial crisis, the Israelis are likewise having second thoughts; probably thinking that the Greek thing didn't work out for them any better than the Syrian thing did for Turkey. Israel and Turkey are both right now feeling like the only stable, grown-up nations in a region filled with squalling brats.

So the flotilla was sunk by history and by cold national interest. Most of the activists got bored and went home after being stuck in Greek ports for a couple of weeks. The remainder tried for a "flytilla," but the Israelis just told airlines not to let them board. A handful who made it to Tel Aviv anyway were just arrested and expelled.

What a shame. Boo. Hoo. Hoo.

04 — Iraq: Please stay longer so we can kill more of your guys.     Looking back on my past ten years of commenting on National Review Online, my biggest regret has been that I ever supported the war against Iraq. By way of partial excuse, I can plead that I didn't support it for long: about a year and a half. That doesn't get me off the hook, though. Wiser and better conservatives than myself opposed the war from the start. They were right and I was wrong.

Now, after close to eight hundred billion dollars and close to four and a half thousand American dead, the utter futility of the whole enterprise is daily more obvious.

U.S. combat deaths in Iraq have actually seen an uptick this past few weeks. The numbers for January, February, March, April, and May were 5, 1, 1, 5, 2. Then in June there were 9, and there have already been three reported in July.

The enemy here is mainly Shiite militias armed and trained by Iran. Iraq's Arab Muslim population, you'll recall, splits around two to one Shia-Sunni. Saddam Hussein's government, though in principle secular, favored Sunnis, and was beastly to Shiite insurgents after Gulf War One. The net effect of Gulf War Two was to put the Shia on top, and there's been some payback going on, as well as some cuddling up to Iran, which is also majority Shia.

The Iraqi government is supposed to be responsible for law and order. If U.S. troops find guys setting up a roadside bomb, for example, they have to hand those people over to the Iraqi constabulary. If the bombers are Shia militias, though, nothing much happens to them. They go in the front door of the local jail and out the back door. This is pretty frustrating for our people. Our new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was in Iraq on Monday and made his displeasure known.

All 46,000 remaining United States troops in Iraq are scheduled to leave by the end of this year, according to current understandings between us and the Iraqi government. We're hearing that the Iraqis told Panetta they'd like us to keep troops there past that date, though, as the government is weak and worried about a general outbreak of disorder after U.S. forces have gone.

So here's a feeble, ineffectual Iraqi government turning a blind eye as Iran trains and infiltrates guerillas to come into their country and attack U.S. troops. Yet they're asking us to stay and help them hold their nasty little show together.

Incredibly, the administration also wants to extend the deadline. They want to keep an eye on Iran, they want to safeguard oil production, they want to avoid the political embarrassment of a post-departure Iraqi civil war, and they don't trust the ability of the Iraqi government to prevent a sectarian blow-up any more than the Iraqi government trusts itself. According to the New York Times, quote:

Assuming that the two uneasy partners can find a way to reach their mutually agreed goal of keeping an American military presence beyond the end of this year, the question is how to make it work more like South Korea and less like Somalia.

End quote. What a mess! What a blunder! I've been saying, by way of further self-justification, that if we'd treated the whole thing as a punitive expedition and left in Fall 2004 when I first called for us to, the dust would have settled by now and there'd be some kind of stability in the place. To be honest, I'm not even sure of that any more. I seriously doubt Iraq will ever resemble South Korea, but it might have ended up like Somalia, and it still might. In fact it most likely will.

We should just have paid whatever bribe Saddam Hussein wanted to keep his nose clean. The guy had another 15 or 20 years of life in him. The man had no scruples; he'd have been our son of a bitch if we'd kept him supplied with booze and whores. What a horrible, futile waste of American lives and money.

05 — Iraqi refugees.     Here's another side of the Iraq debacle.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee has been holding hearings on improvements in domestic security over the ten years since 9/11. One thing that's come up is the problem of Iraqi terrorists in the U.S.A. Back in May, you'll recall, two Iraqis were arrested in Kentucky and charged with conspiring to provide weapons, money and other support to al-Qaeda in Iraq. It turned out both men were known, seasoned terrorists back home, before we gave them visas.

How had those Iraqi terrorists got into the U.S.A.? As refugees, part of our program of resettling Iraqi refugees here. Resettling Iraqi refugees is a huge program. About 58,000 Iraqi refugees have been resettled here since 2007. About another 30,000 still in Iraq have been approved for resettlement.

That's 88,000 people — about one in every 260 Iraqis. And note these are refugees. Refugees from what? Here's the explanation from the Bloomberg.com news report:

Programs such as granting special immigrant visas for Iraqis working on behalf of the U.S. government were intended to fulfill a "special responsibility" to these people, Janice Jacobs, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

OK, just a couple of mean-spirited questions here, Janice. One: If having worked "on behalf of the U.S. government" puts an Iraqi in such danger of life and limb we're ready to give them a refugee visa, what does that say about the success of our nation-building effort there? What does it say about the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom? Two: If these settlement rights are for people who've worked "on behalf of the U.S. government," how come two career terrorists got them?

"The State Department has been working with Department of Homeland Security officials for the last six months to improve the security screening process for visa programs," says that same Janice Jacobs. Oh great. I feel so much safer now, don't you?

Senator Rand Paul said at the hearings that he didn't fault the government for, quote, "missing the needle in the haystack, but you need to make the haystack smaller," end quote. Yeah, 88,000 is a lot of hay, and I'm guessing there will be a lot more needles in there. Still, at least they're coming into the U.S.A. when the employment market's tight as a drum, so there'll be plenty of jobs for them to keep them out of mischief … Oh wait …

So, bottom line: We spent near a trillion dollars and 4½ thousand lives over eight years to rid the Iraqis of a horrid dictator and suppress an incipient civil war, and at the end of it all the place is so rife with anti-American terrorists that it's not a safe place for Iraqis who helped us. Brilliant.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining. As bad as the coming fiscal crisis promises to be, at least it may curb our enthusiasm for extravagant, pointless follies like the Iraq War.

06 — A base hit for the tax man.     New York Yankees shortstop and team captain Derek Jeter became the 28th player in major-league baseball history to clock up 3,000 regular-season hits in his career.

It's a happy story. Even a happy story nowadays has some little sad footnote to it, though, to get you thinking that our country took a wrong turn somewhere — twenty, or fifty, or a hundred years ago — and has ever since been headed down a road to nowhere.

The footnote to the Derek Jeter story concerns 23-year-old Christian Lopez. See, Jeter's 3,000-th hit was actually a home run. Christian Lopez, who comes from Highland Mills, up the Hudson River a way there by West Point Military Academy, Mr Lopez was sitting in the left field stands with his girlfriend and his Dad when the ball came sailing down on them. Lopez Sr. fumbled it; it fell to the floor; Christian Lopez picked it up. At that point he was holding in his hand an object worth between a quarter million and a half million dollars in the sports-memorabilia market.

This should have been a matter of no small moment to Mr Lopez, who works at customer service in a Verizon store and is carrying $100,000 in student loan debt. However, when Yankees security personnel took father and son off to a private lounge to meet with Jeter and some Yankees management suits, Christian gave the ball back to Jeter. "Mr Jeter deserved it," he explained later. "I'm not going to take it away from him. He's worked so hard for 15 years or so."

The suits thereupon comped Mr Lopez three bats, three balls and two jerseys, all signed by Jeter, and four premium seats in the stadium for the rest of the year.

The general reaction was that Christian Lopez behaved like a true gentleman, and set a fine example for the nation's youth. I'm afraid I have to disagree. In fact, I'm going to put on my Scrooge mask here.

First off I'll take issue with Lopez's explanation as to why he returned the ball. "Mr Jeter deserved it. He's worked so hard for 15 years." What Jeter has done for 15 years is play baseball, which is a game. If playing games can be called hard work, which I strongly dispute, it's well remunerated. Jeter's current contract, which he signed last December, is for $51 million over three years.

Second, while of course in a free country we can each of us set his own priorities, I think a right-thinking citizen puts his own obligations, and his own family or potential family, ahead of the interests of his sports idols, however much he may revere them. One day soon, I believe and hope, Christian Lopez will have a wife and kids to support. He'd be able to support them all the better without those student-loan debts hanging over his head; and if he'd kept the ball and sold it, he could have discharged those debts and put some surplus aside as a foundation for starting a family.

Did Lopez know this? Did he have any idea the ball would be worth major money from collectors? I bet he did. He's a lifelong Yankees fan and baseball enthusiast — he has Yankees frames for his car license plates. He has a college degree, so he's no dummy. And if he didn't know it, Jeter and the Yankees suits surely did, and should have told him. Did they? I couldn't find anything in the news stories to say so.

Am I being too Scroogey here? I don't think so. I admire gentlemanliness as much as the next person; but my idea of gentlemanliness is grace and generosity towards those whose station in life is the same as one's own, or lower, together with a proper balance of courtesy and pride in oneself when dealing with those in a higher station. On that basis Derek Jeter surely fails the gentlemanliness test. He should have given the ball right back to Lopez; or, if Lopez insisted, he should have compensated him for it out of his $51 million pay stub. Three signed bats and balls and two jerseys? Don't break the bank there, Derek.

And I also think, though on this one I'd be willing to entertain contrary points of view, that Christian Lopez failed the test too, for the aforementioned reasons. A gentleman at Lopez's station in life owes much to many people: filial piety to his parents, loyalty to his friends and employer, thrift and frugality to his future family, good manners and respect for the law to the rest of us, his fellow citizens. I can't see that he owes anything beyond that to millionaire ball players; and to the degree he gives them anything, he subtracts if from his other obligations.

Be all that as it may, the real Scrooge here is in any case not me but the pestiferous federal government, which had its vultures out circling over Christian Lopez's head before the newsprint was dry on his story.

You see, those miserable signed bats, balls and jerseys, and those premium seats at Yankee stadium that Lopez was comped by the Yankees suits, count as gifts under federal tax law. They are therefore subject to the gift tax. An expert consulted by the New York Times estimated that Lopez is looking at an IRS demand for about $14,000. When Lopez heard this, he said he'd probably have to borrow the amount from his parents. The IRS themseves declined to comment; so did the Yankees, when asked if they'd pay the tax bill. (Wouldn't that also count as a gift? Don't we get into an infinite regress here?)

My scoring on this story: Christian Lopez, whose intentions were honorable even if, in my opinion, misguided: A-minus. Derek Jeter: C-plus — the "plus" just for being a great Yankee regardless. Yankees management: C-minus. Internal Revenue Service: F. And while I'm scoring, I'll give Lopez's dad a B-minus for not whacking his son upside the head with a baseball bat when Christian handed that ball back to Jeter.

07 — Miscellany.     And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.

Item:  Federal stimulus money in action: the public school system of Omaha, Nebraska spent $130,000 in stimulus funds to purchase 8,000 copies of a book. That's one copy for every employee of the system, including janitors. Title of the book: The Cultural Proficiency Journey: Moving Beyond Ethical Barriers Toward Profound School Change. Sample sentence, quote: "Disequilibrium arises due to the struggle to disengage with past actions associated with unhealthy perspectives tied to the barriers and a subsequent move toward a healthy perspective connected to the Guiding Principles." End quote. Quote from the Omaha World-Herald, quote: "Employees will be asked to read a couple of chapters each quarter and then meet in study groups to discuss the book using a study guide produced by the district," end quote. The overall message of the book, to judge from the World-Herald's lengthy description, is that black and Latino students perform poorly on tests because white people are mean to them. So simple! Amazing no-one thought of that before. After a few years of those study sessions, disequilibrium will cease, unhealthy perspectives will have been stamped out, Guiding Principles will rule, and Omaha Public Schools will be popping out black and Latino Nobel Prize and Fields Medal winners like a giant Pez dispenser. I have no doubt.

Item:  California, as we know, is in a terrible mess: unable to pay its bills, public services breaking down, the state's productive citizens fleeing in droves, entire counties being colonized by Mexico. Not to worry, though: the state legislators are working 24/7 to fix the problems. Here's their latest master stroke: a bill signed this Thursday by Governor Jerry Brown requiring school history lessons and textbooks to give full coverage of, quote, "the contributions of gay, lesbian and transgender Americans." We've been here before, folks. In fact we've raised to adulthood two entire generations of Americans who never heard of Andrew Jackson or Thomas Edison, but can tell you all about Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver. The next generation of California adults will be able to tell you all about Liberace and Jane Addams too, leaving even less space in their overloaded brains for persons of real historical importance.

Item:  Americans seem to be a bit baffled about the huge scandal over British journalists tapping people's phones and manipulating their voicemail. It's pretty awful, I'll agree; but journalistic malfeasance isn't exactly new. Why is this such a huge story? Why are business megadeals being canceled and newspapers shut down, rather than just a few miscreants being fired? Let me explain. Britain is a mile or so further down the road that all Western countries, including this one, are traveling: the road to totalitarian uniformity of thought and opinion. The left-liberal world-view is completely dominant over there: all three of Britain's big political parties cleave to it, for example. David Cameron, leader of the so-called Conservative Party, holds opinions about human nature and human society that are pretty precisely congruent with those of, say, Keith Olbermann. Now, you know how lefties feel about Fox News. Well, British lefties want to prevent any domestic equivalent from coming up, and they fear that Rupert Murdoch might be the agent of such a development. This has to be stopped, and the kerfuffle over phone tapping is just part of the war against Murdoch. That's basically it. In a related news item, Cameron's Department of Education has this week given school principals the power to summarily dismiss teachers with, quote, "extremist beliefs." Guess who gets to decide what is "extremist."

Item:  A new nation has been born, to general rejoicing. This is South Sudan, which gained its independence last Saturday and on Thursday became the 193rd member of the United Nations. Congratulations to the South Sudanese, who I am sure, once the celebrations are over, will get to work building a nation every bit as prosperous, orderly, and successful as the six nations with whom South Sudan shares borders: North Sudan of course, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.

08 — Signoff.     That's it, ladies and gentlemen. Now, as promised, here are Mandy, Candy, and Brandy, raising their lovely voices in song for your entertainment and instruction. Take it away, girls.

[Music clip: The Beverly Sisters Mother Never Told me]