[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. Radio Derb is on the air! That was one of Franz Joseph Haydn's Derbyshire Marches, and this is your calorifically genial host John Derbyshire with commentary on the week's news.
I am sorry to report that the big story this week remains the wretched business of the federal debt ceiling. Let's take a look.
02 — Debt limit fandango. Oh boy, the debt limit. If you're tired of hearing about the debt limit, boys and girls, believe me, you're not as tired of hearing about it as we ink-stained wretches are tired of reporting about it.
The story just drags on and on. You really have to care about politics to keep up your interest here. Personally, I keep myself going on regular doses of Polagra, but even so it's not easy to maintain one's enthusiasm.
It doesn't help a bit that the bogosity quotient of the politics here is exceptionally high even by Washington, D.C. standards. Both sides of the debt limit talks are promising to do this by 2020 or that by 2018, when we have no clue what the circumstances of the world or the nation will be like; and when, of course, nobody in either of those years will remember anything politicians said back in 2011.
Still, we must do our best. So what's happened this week in Debt Limit City?
Well, the headliner was the Gang of Six Plan. The Gang of Six is a bipartisan group of Senators, three from each party, who after six months' deliberation this week produced, yes, a plan.
The phrase "bipartisan group of Senators" raises two red flags right away. "Bipartisan" is a pretty sure signal that Republicans are shuffling into position to have their rear ends kicked by Democrats. "Senators" are basically like members of the House, only with fewer scruples and less modesty. Theodore Roosevelt opined that, quote, "When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer 'Present' or 'Not Guilty.'"
The really big red flag came up on Tuesday, after the Gang of Six Plan had had a decent public airing, when President Obama told reporters that he likes the plan. Uh-oh.
The president actually bestowed his favor with one of those gustatory metaphors he seems to have taken up lately. Last week it was peas. This week it was turkey. Quote from the president: "My hope, and what I will be urging Speaker Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, as well as Leader Reid and Mitch McConnell, is that they, tomorrow, are prepared to start talking turkey and actually getting down to the hard business of crafting a plan that can move this forward in time for the August 2nd deadline that we've set." End quote.
So last week it was the veggies, this week the meat. If some other bunch of congresscritters come up with yet another plan next week and Obama derides it as "small potatoes," we'll have a balanced meal.
So what's in it, this Gang of Six Plan? Let's see: half a trillion in immediate spending cuts … a four-year cap on spending by federal agencies … a freeze on congressional pay … some vague "overhaul" of the three big entitlements … and, what's this? Hold on, it's in small print, I need a magnifying glass here … right, what's it say? "Increasing tax revenues by $1 trillion by ending various tax breaks and loopholes, while lowering all income- and corporate-tax rates." Ah-ha, nice clean tax code, no more breaks and loopholes. Yeah, that'll happen.
Remember that old movie The Lost Weekend, where Ray Milland's an alcoholic who hides his whiskey bottle by hanging it outside his apartment window? That's how it is with an uncontrollable addiction. Whatever kind of plan the congress-lushes come up with, you can be sure that before the president's signature is dry on whatever legislation they pass, they'll have a bottle of whiskey hanging outside the window.
Also on Tuesday, the House passed a bill nicknamed "Cut, Cap, and Balance." This was gestural; the thing has no chance with the Senate or the president. Even if it did have, there'd be a bottle outside the window, you may be sure. Nothing but a catastrophe will stop the critters spending, ergo the catastrophe must come.
I'd say more but the Polagra's worn off and I've lost interest. Let's talk about something else.
03 — Attack of the Tiger Wife. Heroine of the week was Wendi Murdoch. Wendi is what the French call une femme formidable, i.e. you really don't want to mess with her. She is in fact Chinese by birth: her name, Wendi, means something like "Cultured Enlightenment." Her original birth name was Wenge, which means "Cultural Revolution." Wendi was born in 1968, when Mao Tse-tung's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was well under way, and everyone in China was striving to be more revolutionary than the next guy. One way to display revolutionary credentials was to give your baby a revolutionary name.
Note that makes Wendi 42 years old. Wendi's husband is billionaire media baron Rupert Murdoch, who is 80 years old. The couple married twelve years ago, when Wendi was 30 and Rupert was 68. That's some age difference; but he was a billionaire and she was cute. Inevitably Wendi got tagged as a gold-digger, and the British press had a lot of fun with that, helped along by Murdoch's old nickname, "Digger," which is common British slang for an Australian, which Murdoch is by birth.
The impression of Wendi as a gold-digger was fortified by the circumstances of her past. She had single-mindedly climbed out of her poor-provincial Chinese background, getting herself to the U.S.A. and acquiring a Green Card by seducing an American engineer, also 30 years her senior, when she was at college. She left that guy, got herself an internship with the Murdoch organization, and put herself in Rupert's way. As we say in mathematics, the result followed.
Collateral casualties included Anna, Murdoch's wife of 32 years, with whom he had three of his six children. Public sympathies in Britain at the time were all with Anna, perceived as British and meek, while Wendi was foreign and pushy. Twelve years of being a model wife and mother, and nursing Rupert through prostate cancer, didn't do as much as they should have to improve Wendi's public image.
Then on Tuesday Rupert was in London giving evidence to a Parliamentary committee on the scandal over journalists at his newspapers hacking into people's cell phones. A comedian — I mean an actual working comedian, stage name Jonnie Marbles — decided to get some free publicity by doing the custard-pie thing on Rupert. You don't actually use a custard pie for these stunts, just a paper plate covered with shaving cream.
At an opportune moment Mr Marbles stepped forward with his pie and started swinging it in the direction of Repurt Murdoch's kisser. Rupert's other kisser, which is to say his wife Wendi, was sitting right behind Rupert. Before Mr Marbles could connect pie with face, the enraged Wendi leapt to her feet, leaned forward over hubby, and gave the assailant an almighty smack upside the head. Quote from Mr Marbles, talking to reporters after security people had tackled him & led him away, quote: "I remember the rage in her eyes. I could see there was genuine emotion in her eyes. I wouldn't like to have a re-match with her." End quote.
Now Wendi's the heroine of the hour, and the phrase "Tiger Wife" is on everyone's lips. Wendi is at last received in all the best drawing-rooms, and celebrity wives all over, from Kate Middleton to Melanie Trump, are signing up for Kung-fu classes.
There isn't much for the editorialist to do with a story like this except just tell it, and express general approval of Wendi's conduct. Speaking as one media baron to another, in a spirit of friendly competition, I wish Rupert Murdoch many more years of activity and good health, and congratulate him on his choice of mate.
It says here in the Washington Times that China is developing electromagnetic pulse weapons. Watching Wendi in action on Tuesday, seems to me they've got a pretty formidable aggressive potential right there.
04 — Rahm Emanuel gets testy. Wendi Murdoch's sudden ascent from heartless gold-digger to fearless Tiger Wife belongs in the larger category of stories about the wives and children of famous people. To what extent are their doings any of our business?
Opinions here fall on a spectrum between two extremes. At the privacy end of the spectrum is the position that a famous person's spouse and kids are nobody's business but his own, and it's rude to notice them in any way. At the exposure end is the argument that when a person is important, it's usually because he has power in some way — power, that is, over the rest of us. In a free society we should know all we can find out about that person's character, so we can judge how worthy he is of the power he holds. His dealings with his family, the decisions he makes about his wife and children, give us useful information about his character.
Those two positions don't map easily onto Left and Right. Conservatives favor privacy in a general way; yet you can't help but notice that there's nobody more private than a left-wing dictator. Can you name Stalin's wife or any of Mao Tse-tung's children? And conservatives also favor modesty and humility in those who rule. At some point, an excessive concern for your own privacy is immodest. It says: "I'm so important I need this twenty-foot razor-wire-topped wall around my estate …"
It's one of those eternal arguments. Radio Derb's experience of life has been that it doesn't take much to make a person insufferably pompous and self-regarding, so that anything that reminds the famous of their mere ordinary humanity is a good thing.
Of course that needs qualification. The occasional custard pie in the face, for example, would be an excellent such reminder. Unfortunately our world is well supplied with homicidal lunatics, who cannot easily or instantly be distinguished from mere unscrupulous self-promoters like Jonnie Marbles. So the famous need some extra protection and precaution. What about their nearest and dearest, though?
At just about the same time that a powerful man was being admirably defended in London by his gutsy wife, over in Chicago a different powerful man was asked about his own decisions regarding his children. This was Rahm Emanuel, recently elected Mayor of Chicago, and prior to that Barack Obama's White House Chief of Staff.
In an interview with NBC's Mary Ann Ahern, Emanuel was asked which Chicago school he'd be sending his kids to. Emanuel got testy, telling the interviewer it was none of her business. When she persisted he unclipped his lapel mike, stood up, and walked out of the studio.
Ahern later told us that before leaving, Emanuel had crossed over from testy to outright obnoxious. Quote from her:
As I tried to explain further, Emanuel doubled back. He looked directly at my two college interns, and said, "You are my witnesses."
Now, you might say that Rahm Emanuel was just as admirably forceful in protecting his kids as Wendi Murdoch was in protecting her husband. There's a case to be made there. I'd just point up two differences.
First difference: Say what you like about Rupert Murdoch, he made his money by selling people a product they wanted to buy. He operates in the realm of free choice and free commercial exchange, the driving energies of a free capitalist society. Rahm Emanuel's a politician. Apart from a couple of years as a rainmaker for a financial firm, he's never done private-sector work. Like Barack Obama or Bill and Hillary Clinton, Emanuel has attained wealth beyond the dreams of avarice from what people like that winsomely refer to as "public service." The U.S.A. wasn't supposed to be like this. Our Founders certainly favored rich people doing a public-spirited stint in politics, but they never thought politics should be a road to riches all by itself.
Second difference: As important as Rupert Murdoch is in his line of business, it's open to any citizen to ignore him and his news outlets completely. You can read the New York Times, watch CNN, and listen to NPR if you like. The people of Chicago can't ignore their Mayor like that. His decisions affect their lives willy nilly. Rahm Immanuel is chief executive of a city of three million people. Those people should find out all they can about his character, and reporters should help them find out. Your decisions about how to educate your kids give us useful insights into your character, especially when you are responsible for a big-city school district.
There isn't much doubt that Rahm Emanuel's kids will attend a tony private school. As a father, the Mayor is right to get his kids the best education he can afford. I've done the same for my kids. As a senior municipal official, though, and a liberal Democrat funded by public-school teacher unions, he's just added one more confirmation that the rich political elites to which he and Barack Obama belong are solidifying into a separate caste, who want as little to do with the rest of us, the great unwashed, as possible.
His anger at being questioned about his kids' schooling also, I think, bespeaks a guilty conscience. Here's a man of the left, who is supposed to keep the interests of the common man close to his heart. Yet plainly his choice for his kids is to remove them as far from the common man as it is possible to get. He has to know his own hypocrisy; and few things are more infuriating that being confronted with one's own shortcomings.
The Obamas, Clintons, and Emanuels made their piles by harvesting votes from ordinary citizens — people whom they now, in their personal lives, do everything they can to avoid. Now they're waving goodbye to the suckers who voted for them, retreating to moated castles like medieval aristocrats. This isn't what America was supposed to be. It surely isn't how egalitarian leftists are supposed to behave.
05 — Michele Bachmann's headaches. Included in the general matter of finding out as much as we can about the people running our public affairs is the particular matter of finding out as much as we can about the state of their health. You don't want to go to the trouble and commitment of donating to a candidate and voting him into office, then having him die on you. Nor do you want someone in office who's going to be incapacitated by illness some significant portion of the time.
The news that Michele Bachmann suffers from severe migraine headaches came in a report on the Daily Caller website Monday. The report was written to make your flesh creep. Quote: "These episodes, say witnesses, occur once a week on average and can 'incapacitate' her for days at time. On at least three occasions, Bachmann has landed in the hospital as a result." End quote.
You have to be somewhat skeptical. Liberals detest Mrs Bachmann for having escaped from the feminist plantation. In the mind of a left-liberal, women and minorities are supposed to be left-liberal too, and faced with one who isn't, there's an instinctive reaction of anger and disgust. Daily Caller is not a liberal website by any means — it's associated with the Cato Institute, which is Beltway-libertarian. Still, when this stuff is in the air, it's not impossible that non-leftists might inhale some of it.
Note that word "Beltway," too. Mrs Bachmann isn't much of a favorite with any of the big Washington D.C. wonk establishments. She's not just off the liberal plantation; in important ways she's off the neocon and libertarian plantations too.
She has, for example, been the loudest voice in Congress protesting the Pigford settlement that's sluicing billions in public money to bogus farmers claiming to have suffered "discrimination" at the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There's hardly been a squeak from other conservatives in Congress about Pigford. They're too scared Keith Olbermann might call them "racist."
Michele has likewise been off the neocon plantation on immigration. The immigration-restrictionist group NumbersUSA ranks all presidential hopefuls according to their positions on twelve key issues relating to immigration and citizenship. Michele is out ahead of the pack, overall grade B-minus, with the highest possible rating on five of the twelve policy issues:
Tim Pawlenty comes second with a C-plus; then Herman Cain with a C-minus, and no-one else scores better than a D.
So the Daily Caller story could be leakage from the left-liberal war on Mrs Bachmann, or it could be neocon infiltrators opening a new front against her. I reserve final judgment, but remain skeptical.
On the actual migraine issue, Wednesday the candidate released a letter from a Congressional physician, no less, telling us that, quote: "Your migraines occur infrequently and have known trigger factors of which you are aware and know how to avoid." Apparently the congresslady takes two types of medication for her headaches, neither of them seriously narcotic.
Sounds like a non-issue to me. We're heading into election season, though, and campaign staff will dig up what they can, so be ready for more of this.
06 — Perry to run? Another possibility there is that Texas Governor Rick Perry is gearing up to announce a presidential run, and part of the gearing-up is oppositional work against other GOP candidates.
Certainly the Michele Bachmann wing of the Republican Party — which is to say, more or less, the Tea Party movement — does not see eye to eye with Governor Perry. Tea Party websites are filling up with anti-Perry polemic. Check out, for example, the website of the New Hampshire Tea Party movement — it's www.nhteapartycoalition.org. Sample quote:
Rick Perry was Democrat Al Gore's Texas campaign chairman in 1988! Then Karl Rove recruited opportunistic Perry to switch parties so Perry could win the post of Agricultural Commissioner as a Republican. Rick Perry is a Trojan Horse for statism cloaked in Tea Party rhetoric and Christian Bible talk buzzwords. Very cynical.
End quote. Other commentators point out that in a season when we're all obsessing about debt it's worth noticing that Texas state debt has more than doubled in Perry's 10½ years as governor, and the state's debt-to-GDP ratio is worse than California's. Perry, we're being told, is a globalist, big-government, illegal-immigrant-friendly RINO like George W. Bush. (Who, I note incidentally, in light of what's gone before, and whatever you think of his presidency, sent his daughters to public schools.)
Well, as I said, there's going to be a lot more of this. Campaign season is getting under way, and the conscientious citizen is going to have to sift through a lot of oppositional stuff — not just from the left against the right, but between GOP candidates. My wonkish acquaintances and colleagues tell me it'll end as a three-way fight between Romney, Bachmann, and Perry. If that's right, I'll be rooting for Michele; but there's a way to go yet.
07 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: Congratulations to the proud nation of Belgium. On Monday this week the people of Belgium celebrated 400 days without a government. What a blessed nation! Actually, quite likely to be two blessed nations soon, as the main cause of deadlock over there is the desire of the Flemish-speaking north Belgians to get away from the French-speaking southrons. Perhaps we should send some of our own multiculturalists over there to teach them how to celebrate Diversity.
Meanwhile, let's fondly imagine the joys of a totally incapacitated government, and let's also, equally fondly, recall the days when plucky little Belgium stood fast against the Hun. [Clip: "Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser"]
Item: A year or so ago there was some public discussion about Hispanic crime rates. I forget the result — most likely it was, that everyone came away believing whatever they'd believed when they walked in.
Well, this week we got a little insight into how these statistics are gathered. The state of Texas published its Ten Most Wanted poster. Here are the names of the Ten Most Wanted, all male:
Got those names? OK, here are the ethnic descriptors of the ten, as given on the Texas Crime Stoppers poster, in the same order:
Just something to bear in mind next time you're reading about analysis of crime statistics by ethnicity.
Item: Here's a presidential GOP candidate announcement I somehow missed: Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, who announced over the July 4th weekend.
You'd have to consider Rep. McCotter as a long shot at this point, but it's early days yet. Conservatism-wise he's a mixed bag. He's supported minimum wage laws and the auto company bailouts; but on the other hand he voted against Obamacare, and blows the rest of the GOP field out of the water on National Question issues. Those rankings from NumbersUSA put him at a rare A-plus on immigration.
On the personal side, Rep. McCotter is 45, plays in a rock band with the encouraging name The Second Amendments, and is a devout Roman Catholic.
So take a look. The guy's a bit too much of a war hawk for my taste, but those immigration ratings are impressive. And let's face it, you may never have another chance to cast a presidential vote for a guy named Thad.
08 — Signoff. That's it, ladies and gents. I don't know how things are elsewhere in listener-land, but here on the right coast we're stuck in a tremendous heat wave. Here in Manhattan the road surface is buckling, the yuppie lawyers are loosening their ties as they scurry from one deposition to another, and nobody wants to be in the half of the subway car the wino is sleeping in.
I'm heading up to the 96th floor for canapés and a few cooling draughts of Veuve Clicquot with Jonah and the girls in the grotto. We shall, I promise, be thinking with affection and concern of you poor peasants toiling away in the heat down below. Ah, the dignity of labor …
[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]