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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. That was one of Haydn's Derbyshire Marches and this is of course your inscrutably genial host John Derbyshire with another edition of Radio Derb, here on the 151st day of Year Zero in the Age of Hope and Change. What new hopes have been stirred in our bosoms this past seven days, and what in the world has changed? Let's take a look.
02 — Obama's financial reforms. Our president has proposed some financial reforms. If he can get them through Congress, and they work as advertised, we could be spared future financial catastrophes. What are the odds? Well, the odds of getting it all through Congress intact are not as good as you might think. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, is raising objections, and they keep a good many congresscritters supplied with whiskey and chewing tobacco. The odds it will work as planned are even slimmer. In a nutshell, Obama and Geithner want to expand the oversight role of the Federal Reserve, which up to now has woken from its dogmatic slumbers mainly to kick interest rates up or down a quarter point. As well as adding a few thousand bureaucrats to the staff of the Fed, a whole new bureaucracy will be created to keep consumers from being diddled by banks. The main problem with all this is that the people who make megabucks working the financial markets are very, very smart people indeed, while the people set up to regulate them are career civil service worker-bees running the clock out to pension day. You think I'm cynical? Listen to financial journalist John Crudele, quote: "Wall Street has lots of money, even in bad times. And a good deal of that money goes toward the re-election of favorite officials and their cherished causes. Washington was bought and paid for a long time ago." End quote. John's been right about more things than I can count, and I'm betting he's right about this.
03 — Li'l Squinty's election win. Monty Python fans will recall the Election Night Special, when Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F'tang-F'tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel of the Silly Party pulled off a surprise win over Arthur Smith of the Sensible Party and Kevin Phillips-Bong of the Slightly Silly Party. Well, something similar transpired over in Iran last weekend, except that of course in Muslim countries there is no Sensible Party. In last weekend's vote, Li'l Squinty Ahmadinejad of the Crazy Party claimed victory over Mir-Hossein Mousavi of the Slightly Crazy Party. Squinty says he got sixty-three percent of the vote to Mousavi's thirty-four percent. I don't know who got the remaining three percent, though I'm willing to bet it wasn't the Iran-Israel Friendship Party. The votes were counted with suspicious speed, bringing to mind Joseph Stalin's great dictum that it's not who votes for whom that matters, it's who gets to count the votes … a dictum not, I believe, totally unknown on the streets of Chicago, where our current president learned his trade. In any case, Mousavi's supporters — that's the Slightly Crazy Party — went out into the streets to protest the result. As we go on the air here, at least fifteen people are know to have been killed by Li'l Squinty's troops firing on demonstrators. They'll all come back to life when the Hidden Imam returns to earth any day now, but in the meantime the nation's Supreme Leader, a bloke named Ayatollah Khameini, has promised some recounts. Almost anything the U.S. government says or does in this situation is pretty much guranteed to backfire in some way or other, so other than muttering some platitudes about what a jolly good thing democracy is, we'd be wise to zip our lips. Obviously we'd prefer the Slightly Crazy party over the Crazy party, but both are well stocked with glittery-eyed Islamic nutsos, both are keen for Iran to have nukes, and both officially hate Jews, not to mention of course the Great Satan. The Iranians will sort it out one way or another, and we don't have much choice but to let them.
04 — Witches denied use of church. News from the mother country: Mrs. Sandra Davis of Manchester wanted to hire the local Roman Catholic church hall for a social event. In a shocking act of discrimination, the Papists turned her down on the grounds of her own religion. Commented Mrs, Davis sadly, quote: "I thought we had made progress, that we could accept other people's religious paths." We all thought so, Sandra. What a sad day for tolerance and mutual respect! By the way, what is Mrs. Davis's religion? Well, she's a witch, leader of a coven that calls itself Crystal Cauldron. Mrs. Davis — or to give her her formal coven name, Amethyst Selmeselene — wanted to use the church hall for a witches' ball. Attempting to defend their cruel bigotry, a spokesman for the local diocese said that Mrs. Davis's intentions were, quote, "not compatible with the ethos and teachings of the Catholic church." Mrs. Davis countered, more in sadness than in anger, with, quote: "It makes you think that there is still a little bit of that attitude from the past of the Catholics wanting to burn witches." There you see the spirit of our age. If you don't give my lifestyle your total, groveling, unqualified approval, then you must be nursing the desire to murder me. You see this all over. If you're not an enthusiastic supporter of gay marriage, you must be plotting to have homosexuals rounded up and lynched in batches. If you dare say one word against Judge Sonia Sotomayor, then it's plain you want to hustle Hispanic people off to reservations. If you think the U.S.A. should accept fewer immigrants for settlement, you are inciting hate crimes. I didn't make that last one up, either: I took it from a report issued this week by some outfit named the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund. Millions of people in the Western world now believe that on certain key topics, nobody honestly holds any position between, on the one hand, complete and unconditional agreement with the liberal agenda, and on the other, snarling malignity. That's the world we live in. You're liberal, or you're evil.
05 — Death of Bongo. Radio Derb was shamefully remiss last week in not having reported the death of Omar Bongo, who had been president of Gabon, in West Africa, since November 1967 — almost 42 years. Hereditary monarchs aside, and likewise setting aside Eternal President Kim Il Song of North Korea, who shuffled off this mortal coil fifteen years ago, that 42-year spell in office made Bongo the longest-serving of the world's national leaders by continuous title. (That distinction now passes to Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, who's been in power since September 1969.) Bongo died either on May 7, or on June 8, or at some date in between, depending on whom you choose to believe. He was being treated for cancer at a clinic in Spain. The official Gabonese news agency was insisting that the president was just fine right up to June 8, in defiance of reports that he had died. Then they suddenly reversed themselves and said no, he's dead. Bongo was one of the original African Big Man leaders notwithstanding he was only 4ft 11in tall in his stockinged feet. With much help from France, the former colonial ruler of Gabon, Bongo maintained control of his country's affairs while diligently shoveling the national revenues into private bank accounts held by himself and his family. According to an investigation by a French court, Bongo owned 37 luxurious apartments just in Paris. There's talk that Bongo's son Ali will succeed him, but the situation's unsettled. If there's a coup and Ali Bongo has to run for his life, perhaps he could go and be president of the Congo, I don't know …
06 — Obama swats fly. The Pakistani army continues to hammer the Taliban up there in the border province of Swat. Meanwhile, while the Pakis are flying missions against Swat, our Chief Executive is swatting missions against flies. Yes, Obama swatted a fly on live TV the other day while being given a tongue-bath by some intervewer from CNBC. Those of us brought up on the tales of Hans Christian Andersen know the story of the plucky little tailor. "SEVEN AT ONE STROKE" said the legend he'd stitched on his belt, referring to his having killed seven flies with one swat. The giant he subsequently encountered took it to mean seven men, and treated the tailor with corresponding respect. Well, our president doesn't quite rise to that standard, but he did perform a very effective swat, decisive and swift, as a president should be. He commented when the deed was done, quote: "I got the sucker." Ten thousand newspaper and website sub-editors immediately leapt to their keyboards to declare the White House a no-fly zone. It is left to your erudite Radio Derb correspondent to chide the Chief Executive in Latin: Aquila non capit muscas, Mr. President, and that means "the eagle does not catch flies." You're the President, Sir: you have people to do that for you. Of course, nothing a president does comes without some political price. In this case, it looks as though Obama has lost the PETA vote. That's P-E-T-A, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA spokeswimp Bruce Freidrich whined that, quote: "We believe that people, where they can be compassionate, should be, for all animals." The group has sent Obama a device that traps a fly so it can then be released outside, giving it the opportunity to infect a couple dozen other people with typhoid. I get similar, PETA-style reactions from my daughter when I catch a rat in one of my cage traps. I just drop trap and rat into a large bucket of water, then watch with grim satisfaction while the little bugger gasps his last little rat breaths, trying to poke his ratty little nose up through the bars of the trap. I guess I'd make a lousy Buddhist. Young Nellie Derbyshire, meanwhile, is off at one side, wringing her pretty hands and pleading with me to let the rat go. Sorry, honey. I lost relatives in the Black Death — well, I mean, it is genealogically wellnigh certain I did — and this is payback time.
07 — CA meltdown. The California fiscal meltdown is fun to watch, isn't it? It's probably less fun for me than it is for some of you, since I live in New York state, which is likely second in line of states to declare bankruptcy, right behind California. How does a state declare bankruptcy? To they actually have to go to court, liquidate assets, pay off debenture holders, and all that other good stuff that a firm does when it goes Chapter 11? Does the president get to stick a finger in the process, as Obama did with the Chrysler bankruptcy, moving the goalposts a bit so that groups he favors can jump the line in making claims on the distressed assets? I guess we'll find out. California state legislators are in total denial. Darrell Steinberg, president of the state senate, says if they just raid the budget reserve, that'll fill the hole. So it might; but next year you'll be looking at an even bigger hole, with no budget reserve to fill it. What you gonna do then, Darrell? Speaker of the state assembly Karen Bass is adamant that spending cuts are not the way to go. Quote from her: "The bottom line for Assembly Democrats is that we are committed to ensuring that the state's fiscal emergency isn't allowed to be misused to eliminate the safety net in California or to eviscerate our public education system." So no cuts then. Governor Schwarzenegger has said he'll veto any more borrowing by the state, and suggests that state lawmakers put the interests of citizens ahead of the interests of state employees and their unions. Well, that'd be a first. Meanwhile, looking at the long term, low-earning, uneducated Mexicans are flooding into California while high-earning, highly educated Anglos and Asians are moving out. And that's fine with state legislators. In fact, to encourage more low-skilled illegal immigration into the state, the California Senate has just passed a bill giving driver licenses to illegal residents. How will these policies affect state finances in the future? Oh, we won't think about that today, we'll think about that tomorrow.
08 — CA legislator wants apology for Chinese. When not giving out freebies to gatecrashers or refusing to face their budget realities, California lawmakers are engaged in other work vital to the security and prosperity of their state. Here, for example, is State Assemblyman Paul Fong, a Democrat from Cupertino whose grandfather was subjected to — oh my God, I can hardly bear to say it — immigration restrictions. Assemblyman Fong thinks the state and federal governments should formally apologize for mistreatment of the Chinese, and he's moved a bill in the state assembly to that effect. Oh, here's the story of Paul Fong's grandad. He arrived in the United States in 1939, then spent two months in a processing facility being questioned to see if he was eligible to enter the country. Turned out he wasn't. Chinese were only accepted as immigrant back then if they belonged to certain professions. Well, grandad paid two thousand dollars for fake papers, changed his name, and came in that way. You are supposed to be outraged by this — no, not by Grandad Fong having faked his way into the U.S.A., but by his having been driven to the necessity of doing so by those heartless immigration authorities. I suppose that in fact you are outraged, unless, like me — and, come to think of it, like the present Chinese government — you think that a nation has the perfect right to grant or deny settlement to anyone it pleases. Wait a minute, though: since grandad Fong settled here under false pretenses, doesn't that make Assemblyman Fong's citizenship invalid? Where'd I put that phone number for Homeland Security?
09 — Miscellany. Here's our closing miscellany of short items.
Item: I don't want to point any fingers here, but are those witches over in Manchester Republicans? If so, that might explain the mishaps befalling administration women over here. Sonia Sotomayor broke an ankle, or perhaps an ankla, while trying a bit too hard to do the Mexican hat dance. Now Hillary Clinton's broken her elbow in, according to her, a fall. Let's be grateful for small mercies here: at least the veridically-challenged Mrs. Clinton didn't try to claim it was a flair-up of an old wound she received while dodging bullets in Bosnia.
Item: If you were around in the sixties you'll remember Sonny and Cher. They were the glamor couple of that era, a sort of hippie Brad and Angelina. Sonny died after skiing into a tree in Tahoe, Cher is still with us last time I paid attention. Well, Sonny and Cher begat a daughter, Chastity Bono. Chastity is now forty and has just told us she wants to be a guy. She is scheduling the appropriate surgery. It's her own business, I guess (or his), but it's kinda sad for us sixties survivors to read about, especially when you check out pictures of Chastity … who I guess will be changing her name to "Celibacy." My infallible source for showbiz gossip, and also for pictures of pop tarts in skimpy skirts trying to get out of limos, is What Would Tyler Durden Do — that's the name of the website — and reporting on Chastity's operation, WWTDD links to a report in the British Journal of Psychiatry telling us that the suicide rate for people after a sex change is a horrific 1.9 percent — nearly one in fifty. Just to give you a scaling factor here, the U.S. suicide rate is about one in nine thousand per annum.
Item: George Herbert Walker Bush, a/k/a Bush 41, is now bathed in the glow of nostalgia we bestow on mediocre presidents who don't screw anything up too badly. Poppy is also a game old bird. He celebrated his 85th birthday the other day by jumping out of a plane. A few days earlier he had celebrated Barbara Bush's 84th by taking a poolside lap dance from a young lady in a very small bikini. To tell you the Gods-honest truth, I wouldn't want to be president — too much work. Being an ex-president looks like a load of fun, though. Happy birthday, Poppy.
Item: It's ever more clear that the administration has no good ideas on controlling health-care costs, which are running away with the national economy. The fundamental problem, as Robert Samuelson notes in the Washington Post, is that fee-for-service paid for via an insurance industry whose priorities are all skewed the wrong way by makeshift legislation, just encourages doctors and hospitals to provide more, and more expensive, care, and consumers to demand it. Meanwhile the cost of everything doctors and hospitals do is being pumped up from below, like an inflatable play castle, by the trial lawyers (who are major funders of which political party? I forget.) In fairness to the administration, though, health care is a tough nut to crack. I'm not myself convinced that there is any stable position between a free market in personal health insurance, with perhaps some risk pools so seriously unhealthy people aren't just shut out, and universal state provision, with all the inefficiencies, rationing, and shortages that inevitably implies. If the Obamarrhoids really have some ideas that will cut through this Gordian knot, they will have done the nation a service; but on the evidence so far, I don't believe they have an original thought among the lot of them, on this or any other topic.
Item: A new element has been confirmed. That's element as in "periodic table." This is element number 112, of which four atoms were spotted in experiments at various times from 1996 to 2004. The international body that solemnizes these matters has now ruled that yes, element 112 really does exist. The search for a suitable name is now on. Admirers of our glamorous, world-transforming new president will no doubt be lobbying for "obamanium," but alas this is a long shot, since the discovery team was German, and U.S.-German relations are chilly right now. "Derbyshirium" doesn't seem to be in the running. As a consolation prize for making a total pig's ear of her 15 minutes of fame, I offer "susanboylium."
Item: The Japanese are telling us that North Korea plans to fire a missile at Hawaii on Independence Day. I hope Obama has his apology ready.
Item: There was a mention of Chicago politics back there somewhere. Well, we got another little flash of ankle from the Chicago boys this week when Americorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin was fired by President Obama. Background here: Americorps is one of those bogus "public service" outfits that politicians set up as conduits through which they can shovel public money to their supporters, who are masquerading for this purpose as "community organizers." In theory Americorps is supposed to provide work experience for young people. In practice, as Tom Wolfe exposed in a famous essay forty years ago, unless you are totally clueless, you don't want to get a job through the program, you want to get a job in the program. It's not about training anyone for anything, it's about getting money from the man. Well, Inspector General Walpin was a bit too diligent in investigating the racket, so Barack Obama, who spent years in the "community organizer" game and knows precisely what it's all about, fired him before he got too close to any big campaign contributors. Ah, Chicago. [Jolson clip]
Item: Finally, an email here from an actuary. Those are the guys who work for insurance companies, calculating the odds I'll be dead next month. I quote in full, quote: "Here is a fun actuarial fact that you may enjoy. The present value of the Medicare benefit to a retiree who becomes eligible at 65, net of accumulated employee and employer lifetime contributions and future premiums for Part B is about $250,000. That's about 50 percent higher than the median house price (at least it was when I did the calculation). If a politician stood up in D.C. and said 'Let's give every retiring American a free house,' he would be laughed out of office. Yet we think we can afford to give every retiring American such an (unfunded) asset." End quote. Something to think about there as you head off to your weekend second job.
10 — Signoff. I just had an ugly thought while reading those comments about witches. You'll notice that the two administration personnel afflicted with broken bones are both females of a certain age and a certain — how shall I put it delicately? — er, profile. Now, I'm not a great consumer of conspiracy theories, but this has got me wondering. Is there a witch war going on here, ours versus theirs? I hasten to say I've never believed those stories about Mrs. Clinton being glimpsed late at night astride a broomstick, silhouetted against the moon, but with the appearance of Judge Sotomayor, who I am reliably informed owns a cat, I can't help but wonder. I am going to put a special team of Radio Derb researchers on this to uncover the truth. Tune in next week so see what we have found. Now I must … Ouch! … What was that? … Felt like someone sticking a damn great pin in me … Ouch! — there's another one. What's going on here? … Ouch! …
[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]