[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Yes, listeners, this is your cosmopolitanly genial host John Derbyshire, returned from his recent travels in snow-bound Muscovy, now once again ensconced in Radio Derb's state-of-the-art sound studio high above Manhattan, here on the 95th floor of Buckley Towers.
My invaluable research assistants Mandy, Candy, and Brandy are fully recovered from their post-Thanksgiving indisposition, I'm glad to say; my faithful recording technician Ahmed has returned from his latest trip to visit his ailing parents in Waziristan, so Radio Derb is back in action with full, in-depth reporting on the state of the world!
02 — The good blimp Newt still aloft. There has proved to be more hot air in the good blimp Newt than I had estimated. This gasbag is still high in the air, drifting lazily on the trade winds towards Iowa.
In the corner of the punditocracy where I dwell, the continued air-worthiness of the Newt dirigible has occasioned some bafflement. "What on earth do they see in him?" the pundits mutter to each other as they pass in corridors — "they" in that sentence being of course the Republican primary electorate.
Some of this bafflement has leaked out into the ranks of Newt Supporterdom, where it is interpreted as covert pro-Romney partisanship. Possibly some of it is; but most of it isn't. I mix with political professionals a fair amount, and the strongest pro-Romney sentiment I have yet heard from the Republican side of that brotherhood is along the lines of, quote, "Oh, I guess he'll do." Some of my fellow pundits, Mark Steyn for example, have been able to produce Newtophobic things they wrote back when Willard was the name of a movie about rats. No, the anti-Newt sentiment among conservative Republicans is not based on any passion for Mitt Romney, it's based on a deep dislike of Newt Gingrich.
Back in 1958, which is to say when American civilization was at its brief shining peak, there was a pop group named the Teddy Bears, brainchild of the still-teenaged Phil Spector. The Teddy Bears had a super-mega-hit with a song titled "To Know Him Is To Love Him." It's a great song, from a great age of popular song, and it would be remiss of me not to include a few bars. This is the 1958 original, with Carol Connors singing and Phil Spector with Marshall Leib supplying the doo-ahs (technically known as harmony vocals).
[Clip: "To Know Him Is To Love Him"]
'Scuse me while I dab away a tear. Back then, a pop song was a pop song, and Phil Spector hadn't shot anyone. You can't tell me any of today's pop will still sound that good 53 years on. Even the title is good: I used to use it when I was teaching English to foreign students as an instance of the infinitive as a verbal noun.
To get back to Newt Gingrich: the opposite sentiment applies. To know him is to dislike him. The more you know Newt, the less you can bear the thought of his being the party standard-bearer.
Hence all the antipathy among the pundits. People who've been following politics all their lives, who live the stuff 24/7, and can remember the minutiae of congressional cafeteria food fights back in the 1990s — people like that wince and grimace and groan when you mention Newt.
Ordinary sensible citizens, by contrast, who have lives to live, jobs to do, and families to raise, and who can't be bothered much with politics, see a different Newt. They have a vague memory of the Contract With America and the 1994 Republican victories, and they see this professorial guy in the TV debates throwing out ideas that sound like they've been matured in some think-tank, and they say, "Hey, here's a sharp cookie who knows what he's talking about." Unlike the policy wonks, they don't recall the previous four or five crumblings of that cookie.
I've been getting anti-anti-Newt email since I first referred to Blimprich as a bag of wind back in December last year. I'm still getting them. The latest catch-phrase is that Gingrich is the reincarnation of Winston Churchill: a romantic patriot fizzing with ideas, not all of them good but all well-intentioned, whose past errors were the result of being too bold, and who was hated by the comfortable seat-warmers of his party exactly for that boldness.
OK, here is one, just one, thing that Winston Churchill did. After the Gallipoli flop in 1915, Churchill accepted full responsibility. He resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty and then, at the age of 41, took command of an infantry battalion on the Western Front, under constant shelling and small-arms fire from enemy lines a few hundred feet away. If you know of an instance of Newt Gingrich putting his flabby hide on the line like that, let me know about it.
All right, everyone's entitled to an opinion. Here's a warning, though: You may not recall the details of Newts follies and malfeasances, but if he's the Republican nominee, by next November they'll be better known to the American electorate at large than the multiplication table, or Barack Obama never lived in Chicago, and no main-stream media exec ever got a discolored tongue from too much licking of Obama's loafers.
The Gingrich blimp will sail on for a while longer yet, but it'll be brought flaming to earth before it reaches the White House. Better the fire arrows should be shot by Republicans than by Democrats. [Clip: "Oh the humanity!"]
03 — Russia's elections. Eight months before our own presidential election next year, Russia's having theirs.
The story so far. Putin served two terms as President, 2000 to 2008. The Russian constitution has term limits, though. No person is allowed to serve more than two consecutive terms as President. Putin finessed the issue by putting forward Dmitry Medvedev, his former campaign manager, as President in '08.
Putin had actually been an improvement over the previous administration, and his government had provided some stability after the roller-coaster 1990s. Furthermore, Russia's oil and gas resources were starting to boost the economy. Further-furthermore, Putin's party dominated the media and the security apparatus. With all that going for him, it was no surprise Medvedev won in '08. He promptly made Putin his Prime Minister.
Now, four years on, Putin's eligible for the Presidency again, so it's time to change places once more. Medvedev has endorsed Putin for President, and Putin has offered the opinion that Medvedev would be an excellent Prime Minister. Their party's control of the media and police remains secure, so the chances are excellent that Putin will succeed Medvedev as President, and Medvedev will succeed Putin as Prime Minister.
Those successions are not, however, quite a foregone conclusion. This is not 2008, and it is absolutely not 2000. In the post-Soviet chaos of the 1990s, any kind of stability was welcome, even the crude authoritarian kind provided by Putin. Once people get used to a certain level of stability, though, they start to relax and look at other things. At corruption, for example, which is at appalling levels in Russia. The organization Transparency International, which monitors these things, regularly puts Russia way down low in the rankings, along with kleptocracies like Pakistan and Nigeria.
Throw in the 2008-2009 financial crisis, which affected Russia more than, Russians tell you, it really ought to have; and a too-slow recovery from that crisis; and continuing dire standards of health care, education, and transportation infrastucture; and a rising surge of emigration of the country's talented people; all this in spite of soaring revenues from oil and natural gas; add it all together, you get a lot of grumbling.
The grumbling found an outlet last weekend in elections for the State Duma, Russia's House of Representatives. Putin's party lost bad, just barely holding on to a majority of seats in the house. They got a shade less than 50 percent of the popular vote, down from 64 percent four years ago. Even that figure was boosted by widespread application of the Chicago arts by Putin's party — ballot stuffing, intimidation, dead souls, and the W.C. Fields principle: "You're a good man. I voted for you today … five times."
There were a lot of public protests. Walking around central Moscow Monday and Tuesday this week — the vote had been on Sunday — we had to keep making our way carefully around knots of uniformed police, in one case a group in full riot gear, helmets and face shields. We saw a lot of demonstrators too, though almost all of them were demonstrating for Putin's party. As a Russian friend explained to us: "They got the day off work." The police stood smiling in approval as these pro-Putin demonstrators marched past.
Coming up Tverskaya Street — a sort of cross between New York's Fifth Avenue and Washington, D.C.'s Pennsylvania Avenue — coming up Tverskaya from Red Square Tuesday afternoon we did get a glimpse of an anti-Putin demo. We couldn't get close for the cops, who outnumbered the demonstrators. It was more of a scuffle than a real demo, though there was some spirited shouting, and we saw a woman in rather a nice fur coat being roughly dragged away by two cops, one on each arm, to a waiting paddy wagon. That evening there was a real demo in a square one block from our hotel. It drew several hundred people, of whom dozens were arrested. Again we couldn't get close, though we could hear the commotion from our room.
The reactions from Putin and Medvedev to the poor vote and the demos was vituperative. Putin pulled the oldest card in the despot's deck, blaming it all on "foreign agitators," whipped up somehow by Hillary Clinton and the State Department. The U.S.A. is spending, quote, "hundreds of millions of dollars" to influence Russian politics, said Putin.
Medvedev, who actually comes from a respectable academic family, went into Khrushchov-peasant mode, tweeting that opposition demonstrators were, quote (in a delicate translation), "stupid sheep getting pleasured in the mouth." There were scandalized protests from all over about that, and New Zealand withdrew its ambassador, so the tweet has been taken down. There's no doubt Putin and Medvedev are upset, though.
From this point there are three paths Russia might follow.
All the historical arrows point to a crack-down, with a Putin-Medvedev victory in March's presidential election, achieved by any means necessary. The other two paths are there for the treading, though, and can't be ruled out. Keep an eye on Russian politics this next few months.
04 — News from Turkmenistan. In Britain there is a weekly journal of left-wing opinion called The New Statesman. A rough U.S. equivalent would be The Nation. Indeed, Britain used to have a left-wing magazine called The Nation until it was absorbed by The New Statesman in 1931.
The amalgamated magazine was known officially for some years after that as The New Statesman and Nation, whence the Fleet Street nickname The Staggers and Naggers, whence the name of the magazine's online blog, The Staggers.
In the late 1960s, under the editorship of Paul Johnson, who had not yet seen the light of conservatism, The Staggers and Naggers was a major organ of left-wing opinion journalism, read not just by die-hard socialists, but even by the likes of, for example, Richard Nixon. Though it perhaps never attained the deep penetration of my own majestic organ, The Staggers and Naggers was a force to be reckoned with.
O what a falling-off there was! A December 2nd article on The Staggers plumbed the lowest depths of character assassination with a scandalous article about Central Asia. Chief among their targets was good friend of Radio Derb, Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Sample quote from this disgraceful specimen of gutter journalism at its worst, quote:
Little is known about President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the leader of this nation of 5.5 million people — but the Wikileaks cables suggest that Berdymukhamedov was given a £50m yacht by a Russian company in exchange for Russia winning lucrative contracts. Added to reports of human rights abuses, the lack of free elections during his six-year presidency, and the strict enforcement of a Saddam-style personality cult, the leader of Turkmenistan makes Gaddafi look sane; even slightly open-minded.
End quote. It would be tiresome to refute once again the crude slanders retailed in that quote; to explain, for example, that the yacht referred to was paid for out of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's own pocket, following a successful speculation in cattle futures by the President.
This shameful piece of so-called journalism, by a certain Mary Mitchell — let me spell that out for the benefit of our friends in Turkmenistan, should they decide to seek redress in the libel courts, it's M-I-T-C-H-E-L-L, Mitchell — this appalling screed notes that in October this year it was announced that the South Iolotan fields in Turkmenistan contain between 13.1 trillion and 21.2 trillion cubic metres of natural gas, between two and four times as much as the entire known natural-gas reserves of the U.S.A. This Mitchell person goes on to suggest that the many friendships and partnerships President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has established with Western nations and firms are motivated, on the foreign side, by desire for a piece of the natural-gas action.
Others may speak for themselves. I can only assure listeners that Radio Derb's own broadcasting agreements with Turkmenistan are motivated by nothing but our desire to improve relations between the U.S.A. and the noble, industrious people of Turkmenistan. Allegations to the contrary are either sour grapes by unsuccessful rival bidders, or else the envy of small-minded nay-sayers towards a world-historical figure of the stature of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
We here at Radio Derb have heard these allegations many times, and we know who the alligators are. Rest assured they will be dealt with by our tireless staff of attorneys.
In another item of news from Turkmenistan, a dispatch dated December 6 from that nation's own news service reports that, long quote: "President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov severely reprimanded Minister of Health Gurbanmammed Elyasov 'for unsatisfactory performance of his duties.' The head of state expressed his dissatisfaction with loss of work in construction of healthcare facilities. Said the Turkmen leader: 'Elyasov has been warned that if he fails to correct promptly the shortcomings he will be relieved of his duties.'" End of long quote.
Contra the absurd fairytales about, quote, "human rights abuses" disseminated by the odious Mary Mitchell and others, this news item shows the deep concern that President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov nurses for the health of his people.
He has in fact been busy promulgating a complete overhaul of Turkmenistan's healthcare practices, of which our own president's related efforts are merely the palest shadow. At Radio Derb's next meeting with the senators from our state, in fact, I shall urge them to vote on replacing so-called Obamacare with the infinitely superior Berdymuhamedovcare
Finally, in late-breaking news from Turkmenistan, I see that the aforementioned Minister of Health Gurbanmammed Elyasov has suffered fatal injuries in an automobile accident while driving much too fast across the Karakum desert towards the border with Uzbekistan. Our condolences to Mr Elyasov's family.
[Clip: Turkmenistan anthem]
05 — Government can't stop spending. New York State got a new governor on January 1st this year: Andrew Cuomo, son of limousine-liberal spendaholic three-term governor Mario Cuomo, who did his best to bankrupt our state back in the 1980s.
Although, like his Dad, a liberal Democrat, Andrew Cuomo was supposed to be a different deal for a different time. On the campaign trail, and for his first few months in office, Cuomo talked a good game on state spending. "No new taxes for New York," he assured us time and again. On October 17th this year he delivered the following gem of a quote, so warming the hearts of New York fiscal conservatives that the New York Post, America's newspaper of record, reprinted it at the bottom of their editorial column every day for several weeks. Quote:
You are kidding yourself if you think you can be one of the highest-taxed states in the nation, have a reputation for being anti-business — and have a rosy economic future.
End quote. Not only did Andrew Cuomo have a trail of such stirring quotes to commend him, he also had a reputation as a skillful and unscrupulous operator, able to outwit even the most formidable enemies — enemies like New York State's public-sector unions, with their gold-plated retirement, healthcare, and pension deals set in steel-reinforced concrete and defended with North Korean implacability.
Alas for the hopes of men! This week Governor Cuomo buckled like salt-water taffy, announcing a deal struck with both the state Assembly, which is Democrat-controlled, and the state Senate, Republican-controlled. The heart of the deal is a juggling of state tax brackets to raise two billion dollars more than projected. This won't be enough to completely cover next year's $3.4 billon shortfall, and in fact Cuomo has announced new spending — sorry, I mean of course "investment" — on things like infrastructure modernization and jobs programs for inner-city dropouts.
The tax-rate juggling is skillfully done, with joint filers making less than $350,000 paying slightly less tax and filers above that line considerably more than they would have if, as promised, the so-called "millionaires' tax" was allowed to expire on schedule January 1st. It's a tax hike, though, any way you cut it — exactly the thing Cuomo said he wouldn't allow. And it comes with extra spending.
Moral of the story here: No politician in any democratic precinct anywhere can cut goverment spending. Government spending can only, always and everywhere, increase. Even people who claim to want government spending reduced, don't really. They just want the spending increases decently hidden, the way Victorian wives used to put lace frills around the legs of their pianos so no-one would think of them as legs.
Killer quote from New York Post's unfoxable star reporter Fred Dicker, quote:
Cuomo's plan appeared to be going over well, with endorsements from the New York City Partnership, the Business Council, the New York Farm Bureau, and Unshackle Upstate, normally anti-tax business groups, while other anti-tax organizations remained conspicuously quiet.
End quote. See, nobody much wants overall spending reduced, though of course wellnigh everyone wants the other guy's spending reduced.
It's the same all over. The Wall Street Journal ran an article the other day about the bitter fight over public spending that's going on in Britain. Britain's so-called conservative government has backed off from projected staffing cuts in government departments of 25 percent over four years, to 19 percent. That put the opposition Labor Party on the spot: their plans call for 20 percent cuts. Yet when the Journal writer crunched the numbers, factoring in pensions and such, there are no spending cuts at all. The choice is in fact between an increase in spending of 2.5 percent a year under the conservatives, or 3.3 percent under the Laborites.
That's typical of the advanced countries, with their manufacturing outsourced and the ranks of pensioners growing fast. Government can increase spending by this much, or by a tad more. That's the political choice before voters; and voters, to judge by their voting choices, wouldn't have it otherwise.
That's why you hear so much from gloomsters like me about the lips of waterfalls and the edges of cliffs. There is no general public desire for cuts in government spending — not in New York State, not in Britain, not in the U.S.A. as a whole, not anywhere.
The laws of economics, in fact of reality, tell us that what can't go on for ever, won't. It will eventually be stopped, either by human agency, or by relentless natural forces. The near-unanimous choice of we, the people is for option two.
06 — Afghanistan: The Forever War. Every so often my eye falls on a news story about Afghanistan. My instinctive reaction, in the fraction of a second before my higher mental faculties kick in, is always: "Good heavens, are we still fooling about in that godforsaken sinkhole?"
Well, yes, we are still fooling about in that godforsaken sinkhole, though nobody can tell me why. Ten years plus, 1,770 fatalities — three already this month — 94,000 troops in theater. Current cost: from six to nearly ten billion dollars a month, depending on which source you prefer.
To what purpose? That too depends on whom you ask. "To prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state," you hear a lot in neocon precincts, as if one more failed state in the world would make any difference to the U.S.A. "To deny a base to Al Qaeda," you also hear, without any follow-up explanation as to why we aren't spending ten billion dollars a month patrolling Somalia, or Yemen, or Sudan, or for that matter London and Hamburg. "To spread the blessings of liberty and good government," some will tell you: certainly a good thing to do, but subject, like even the most commendable state actions, to issues of means and ends and the cold rules of cost accounting. "For women's rights," I have actually heard more than once, as if the domestic arrangements of Pashtun goatherds were any business of the United States government. "To keep an eye on Pakistan," one extremely respectable commentator told me last month, as if we don't have diplomats for that sort of thing. (And speaking of which, did you know that our ally Pakistan, on whom we lavish billions of aid dollars, is now the most anti-American nation ever polled on the matter — even more anti-American than South Korea, the former champion.)
Even more baffling than that the thing is still going on, is the fact, reported this week, that some people want it to go on for longer than currently scheduled. Obama plans to pull out 30,000 troops by next September, then to reduce troop numbers further at a steady pace. General John Allen, on the other hand, who is currently in charge of the show, wants no more reductions after next summer, though he allows a drawdown might resume in 2014 if conditions are favorable. So after thirteen years in the wretched place we should, on General Allen's scheme, still have 68,000 troops there, costing five billion dollars a month, in order to ensure that [crickets chirping].
Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad, goes the ancient proverb. After watching this pointless, expensive, murderous fiasco for all these years, I think I'd update that: Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first inspire with the idea to occupy Afghanistan. Hey, it worked for the U.S.S.R.
07 — Obama pegs foreign aid to homosexual activism. A thing that gets asked a lot in conservative discussion groups is: What's the point of foreign aid? If people feel moved by distress in foreign places, they are free to alleviate that distress by voluntary contributions to any of numerous charities. Why is it any business of a national government to relieve the distresses of foreigners?
A number of answers are possible. It is sometimes desirable to have a foreign country go along with something our government rightfully wishes to do. Bribery is one way to get them on board. The problem with bribery is that the amount demanded tends to increase without limit, so we are back in the realm of cost accounting at last. Still, a one-off bribe to a foreign country to do something we wish them to do, is not objectionable.
That view of things is of course much too cold for a sentimental, moralistic nation like ours. And even if our government were itself to have been scrubbed clean of sentimental moralism, there are domestic political factions to be appeased.
Consider homosexualist groups, for example. They are keen for their lifestyle to be normalized everywhere, and unhappy that in many countries, homosexual behavior is regarded with disgust, may even be illegal, as it was in most states of the union until forty years ago. Homosexuals being perforce spared the expenses of child-raising, they form a wealthier-than-usual demographic, one whose favor politicians will naturally seek. However coldly dedicated to the national interest our leaders are, the homosexualist movement is a fruit so juicy and ripe (as it were), the temptation for politicians to pluck it is irresistible.
I am trying here to put the kindest possible interpretation on Barack Obama's recent pronouncement, reported in the Washington Post on Wednesday, that the U.S.A. will use its foreign aid and asylum programs to promote homosexuality in other countries.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated the message in a speech at the U.N., declaring that equal treatment of homosexual and sexually confused people will henceforth be an explicit foreign policy goal of the United States.
Once upon a time the foreign policy of the U.S.A. concerned itself only with keeping trade routes open and protecting American businessmen and others in foreign countries. Now it has a new focus: to protect the rights of foreigners themselves to engage in buggery, regardless of how local tradition and custom regards the matter.
The obstacles to this bold new policy are formidable. Here is one of them:
[Clip: "As Africans, we want to ask Barack Obama to explain to us: Is this what he wants to bring to Africa as a human right — to eat the poo-poo?" (Cheering)]
Yes, that was Pastor Dr Martin Ssempa of Uganda, the world's leading campaigner against coprophagy, which Dr Ssempa claims is a common practice among homosexuals. Whether the Rev. Dr Ssempa is correct in his belief, I could not say. My own inclinations in this area are libertarian. If people want to eat the poo-poo, I'm entirely OK with it, so long as they don't try to open a restaurant in my neighborhood.
The good doctor has a big following in Uganda, though. Homosexual practices are illegal in that country, and repeat offenders can be sentenced to death. Anti-homosexual attitudes are common in Africa: Homosexual acts are illegal in 38 African countries out of 51. This whole issue in fact represents one of those contradictions that liberals keep gettin caught in. Africans are victims of historical oppression; homosexuals are victims of historical oppression; which group's views should be deferred to?
If you truly understand modern liberalism, this is an easy one. Liberalism's only real interest is in money, generally yours and mine. American homosexuals have lots of money to contribute to the Democratic Party; Ugandans very little. Contradiction resolved!
So, Rev'm Ssempa: However you may feel about people eating the poo-poo, if the leaders of your nation want to keep those U.S. taxpayers' dollars sluicing through into their Swiss bank accounts, I'm afraid you'll have to swallow it. Figuratively speaking, of course.
08 — Signoff. I'm afraid we're out of time here, Radio Derb fans; though after that last item, I'll surmise that you're not too disappointed.
Radio Derb will be back at full throttle next week with more news and views, and, who knows? perhaps a recipe or two …
[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]