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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches]
01 — Intro. I must say I have been touched by the number of listeners emailing in to offer sympathy for last week's minor misfortune. Many thanks to all of you, and I am much better. The mishap was caused by a rented power tool that proved much bigger, more unwieldy, and harder to control than I had thought. Derb and tool fell off the step ladder we were on, and the rest is Tylenol and cold compresses.
Enough of that, time for station identification. This is Radio Derb, broadcasting from our lavishly-appointed state-of-the-art recording studio here on the 95th floor of Buckley Towers in the heart of Manhattan. I am your convalescently genial host John Derbyshire, and here is the week's news this last full week of August.
02 — Heading for the cliff edge. The U.S. economy is one week closer to the cliff edge. It's now quite routine to open one's newspaper or web browser in the morning and see articles giving dire warnings of the impending catastrophe, written in the most apocalyptic terms by fully-accredited experts in finance and economics.
Here's one from the Zero Hedge website, a big favorite with hedge fund analysts, date August 19, quote: "There is an entrenched insolvency problem in the United States … Insolvency is not illiquidity; insolvency is about income that can't service debt burden. I believe we are getting close to [where things fall off the cliff]: Just need a catalyst. Sequential bond auction failures here, a sov[ereign] default there, massive liquidity drain all around … whatever. The fumes running the engine (quantitative easing) are dwindling …" End quote.
Or how about this from the Business Insider website, August 20, quote: "China cut its holdings of U.S. government bonds by the largest ever monthly amount in June … China's U.S. debt ownership has fallen to $843.7 billion in June from $938.3 billion in September 2009 according to a U.S. Treasury Department report released Monday. This equates to nearly an 11 percent reduction by China." End quote.
Here's another, from Business Week, August 25, quote: "'Governments will impose a loss on some of their stakeholders,' writes Arnaud Mares, a Morgan Stanley executive director. 'The question is not whether they will renege on their promises, but rather upon which of their promises they will renege, and what form this default will take. Rather than miss principal and interest payments, governments may choose a "soft" default in which they pay back debts with devalued currencies resulting from faster inflation, or force creditors to take lower returns …'" End quote.
Now, I always have to stop and check myself at this point. I'm a natural pessimist, with a temperamental attraction towards gloom'n'doom prognostications. So maybe there's one of those biases at work here, "confirmation bias," or one of the other ones the behavioral economists have identified. Well, this week I was talking to an old friend from my days as a worker bee in a Wall Street bond brokerage. This guy knows the bond business inside and out, and furthermore has the opposite temperament to mine: sunny, upbeat, always able to find that silver lining. So I asked him straight out: Are things as bad as they look? "Oh yeah," he said, "we're popped." Except he didn't precisely say "popped."
Next day those dismal housing figures came out; a couple of days later the Dow fell below ten thousand. It brought to mind how back in June a different pal in the finance business had emailed at an idle moment from his desk, thus, quote: "We're all just waiting for the rest of the watertight compartments to fill."
Listeners, I do not have a good feeling. The federal government seems clueless, with just one answer for every problem: spend more money — more of the money that we don't, in point of fact, have. The guy at the top is a local-government lefty agitator and law school academic, with no clue about national affairs, still less international ones.
So here's the rest of the news; but please remember, everything else that's happening, is happening in the shadow of a looming economic catastrophe. So I really believe.
03 — Primaries: Rubio, McCain. We had a flurry of primaries this week, with five states voting for various party candidacies.
Marco Rubio's now the official GOP candidate for the Senate seat in Florida, to the surprise of nobody at all, and is polling well for the fall.
In Arizona, John McCain won his primary after spending 21 million dollars and doing an Oscar-winning impersonation of a conservative. There was no black guy standing against McCain, and therefore no occasion for McCain to throw the bout rather than take the risk he might look politically incorrect to his admirers in the mainstream media. So this time John-John went all out and won.
McCain's opponent, J.D. Hayworth, had some issues at the grumble level, but he is a bright shining star of conservative rectitude compared to the appalling and duplicitous McCain. Unfortunately Hayworth stood no chance against the forces McCain had on his side: the liberal media, of course, who love McCain almost as much as they loved his legislative collaborator Ted Kennedy, but most of all the Republican establishment — those wonderful folk who brought us eight years of uncontrolled spending, open borders, ethnic pandering, and pointless missionary wars.
True to their brainless form, the GOP seatwarmers, with I think the sole but honorable exception of Dana Rohrabacher, lined up behind McCain like sheep, all going BAA-AA-AA! in unison. If there ever was any difference between an establishment Republican and a plain liberal, I've given up trying to find it. In any case, what the conservative movement needs, if it is not to go into irreversible coma at this point, is not more establishment RINOs like McCain, but more … what's the word I want here? … perhaps "mavericks."
Hayworth, with all his faults, would have fit the bill. He was polling within five points of McCain at one point, so excuses about "he never stood a chance" won't wash. Sarah Palin endorsed McCain, but I won't hold that against her. She owes him big, and gratitude is a noble virtue. The Tea Partiers, contrary to what the liberal press is telling you, were behind J.D. Hayworth, so at least not everyone was fooled by John-John's little conservative act.
The Tea Partiers are still a fringe movement, though, and the GOP establishment can crush them like a bug when they want to. In Arizona this Tuesday, they very much wanted to.
Well: now John McCain looks set fair to enter his fourth decade in Congress: spending our money, fattening up the military contractors, schmoozing the cheap-labor lobbyists, and keeping those borders open. Now he can drop the pretense about favoring enforcement of the law and go back to getting standing ovations at La Raza rallies.
That humming noise in the background? That's Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave.
04 — Primaries: the Palin factor. Election season is no fun without a cliff-hanger, and we got one in this week's round of primaries from Alaska. Lisa Murkowski, senior senator for that state and card-carrying RINO, was challenged by Tea Partier Joe Miller, and may have lost to him — the result's not clear as we go to tape.
And speaking of Alaska, it looks as though the real winner on Tuesday was Sarah Palin, who'd endorsed five candidates, four of whom won. If Joe Miller beats Lisa Murkowski for the Alaska Senate GOP candidacy, it'll be a clean sweep, five out of five, for Sarah. Of 31 candidates Sarah's endorsed this year, she's tallied 20 wins, ten losses, and Joe Miller to be announced. That's a lot of influence the gal from Wasilla is showing there.
I'm agnostic about Sarah's chances for the big one in 2012; but if she decides not to go for it, she could still be a kingmaker in a lot of localities. That's not quite the same thing as being a national winner, but it's still pretty darn good.
Meanwhile Sarah's daughter Bristol seems determined to remind us that the border between politics and show business is not well patrolled. Bristol's going to be on Dancing With the Stars, she tells us. Meanwhile her baby daddy Levi Johnston is shopping a reality TV show. Todd Palin is keeping his usual low profile, confirming my impression that he is the wisest of the bunch. Any chance we could get him to run in oh twelve?
Oh come on, I'm just having a little harmless fun here. What's the point of politicians if we can't crack jokes about them? And I'll tell you this for sure: If we must have a national political family, I'd way prefer the Palins over the Kennedys.
And let me also say that in this quick round-up of Tuesday's primary results, I do not mean to slight the good citizens of Oklahoma and Vermont, which also held primaries. Those are noble states inhabited by wonderful people. It's not my fault that nobody ever goes there.
05 — Missionary wars. I mentioned missionary wars there a minute ago. A missionary war is when you send your armed forces into a country to build soccer fields, repair water pipes, hand out candy to the kids, and stage elections for a representative government. That's as opposed to a real war, where you smash the enemy's stuff and kill his people till he cries 'nuff.
The main features of a missionary war are as follows. It goes on for a couple of decades and ends when we get bored and go home, whereupon the target country proceeds to do what it would have done anyway — go communist, submit to a military coup, whatever. Meanwhile we have filled the place up with bad feeling towards us for our clumsy, half-hearted meddling, and generated great floods of refugees, to all of whom we'll give U.S. settlement visas, bringing the ill feeling home with us.
A real war, by contrast, on no account lasts more than five years, and is followed by a complete transformation of the target country into a parliamentary democracy and grateful ally.
You'd think that real war would be the policy choice every time, but, no, the U.S.A. is chock-full of missionary spirit, so every few years off we go to bring light to the Heathen and show them how kind, generous, and wonderful we are. It never works; they just end up hating us; but we keep doing it anyway, driven by some peculiar missionary impulse that I confess I don't understand at all.
So here we are coming up to our tenth year in Afghanistan, building soccer fields and handing out candy. The people we're fighting have made the very reasonable calculation that the getting-bored-and-going-home point is only a couple of years away, tops, and Obama's talk of a deadline next July to begin bringing troops home can only have fortified their expectations.
That was the point made on Tuesday by General James T. Conway, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. General Conway softened the remark a bit by hinting that Obama's deadline has, like so much our president says, a fuzzy quality to it, since the phrase "beginning to withdraw troops" can refer to withdrawing a single platoon, while leaving the rest in place for another decade or two. General Conway then said that when this dawns on the enemy, they will be demoralized, throw away their weapons, take up soccer and Christianity, and start holding elections.
Right, General. With proper respect, Sir, let me tell you what will actually happen. As the economic situation gets really bad in the U.S.A., more and more voters will ask why the government is spending our money chasing Pushtun goat-herds round the Hindu Kush when unemployment is at twenty percent and public services are breaking down.
That's what will happen: and five'll get you ten it'll start happening before next July.
06 — Newsweek's best countries. Newsweek ran a much-commented-on story about the world's best countries. They used a bunch of obvious indices to rank all the countries of the world in order: education, health, economic dynamism, political environment, and so on.
On the overall rankings the top ten countries were, from the top down, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Luxembourg, Norway, Canada, Netherlands, Japan and Denmark. Bottom ten, from the bottom up: Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Uganda, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Yemen, and Senegal. Darned if I can see any pattern there.
In any case, I take these surveys with a pinch of salt. The last one I remember was from the United Nations back in 2007. They put Iceland at number one. I wrote the topic up in my December 2007 diary, and included a quote from W.H. Auden's 1937 book Letters from Iceland. Auden's book was in the form of letters to a friend back home in England. I'll just re-quote the quote I quoted in my December '07 diary, quote:
If you have no particular intellectual interests or ambitions and are content with the company of your family and friends, then life on Iceland must be very pleasant, because the inhabitants are friendly, tolerant, and sane. They are genuinely proud of their country and its history, but without the least trace of hysterical nationalism. I always found that they welcomed criticism. But I had the feeling, also, that for myself it was already too late. We are all too deeply involved with Europe to be able, or even to wish to escape. Though I am sure you would enjoy a visit as much as I did, I think that, in the long run, the Scandinavian sanity would be too much for you, as it is for me. The truth is, we are both only really happy living among lunatics.
End quote. See, it all depends what you want from life. I bet Finland is a really nice place. Probably most of the people in the world would live in a country like Finland if they could. Misfits like me and Auden, though, need to live among lunatics. Otherwise we'd have nothing to write about, would we?
07 — Mosque supporters' secretiveness. That segues nicely into the controversy about the Ground Zero mosque, which rumbled on this week, generating a steady stream of rancor that should last for years: both rancor between Muslims and non-Muslims, and also rancor between different factions of non-Muslims. As always with these conflicts over multiculturalism, some of the loudest screaming comes from liberals who simply can't tolerate the notion that anyone disagrees with them about anything.
You'd think, given all this ill feeling gushing out from lower Manhattan across America, from sea to shining sea, you'd think the folk who want to build the mosque would yield a little, compromise a little. When I said that to a friend in conversation he replied: "They're Muslims. They don't do yield. They don't do compromise." I guess that's right.
Another thing they don't seem to do is honesty. Radio Derb ran its first report on the mosque May 14. Here we are three months later and we still know next to nothing about the funding for the mosque.
Would it hurt them to tell us? I must have watched half a dozen TV news programs now where some reporter asks one of the principals a question about this, and the principal, if he's seated in a TV studio and can't just make a run for it, bobs and weaves and ducks and dodges. If the reporter catches him in the open, as Fox News has been doing with Sharif el-Gamal, the developer of the mosque site, or Hisham Elzanaty, his financial backer, they scuttle away like roaches when the kitchen light's turned on.
Would it hurt them to answer a few questions, just to soothe people's feelings and quell people's doubts? Yes, I know they don't have to, but would it hurt?
I guess my friend was right. They don't do yield. The don't do compromise. They also don't do soothe or quell. The word "Islam" means "submission." In the minds of the mosque promoters this is a zero sum game. The Muslim submits only to God; the infidel submits to the Muslim. Any other arrangement is a violation of the natural order.
08 — Miscellany. Here is our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: Glen Beck's having a rally in Washington D.C. this weekend. I'm a little vague about the purpose, but there's another rally going on headed up by Al Sharpton, both rallies having something or other to do with Martin Luther King. Sort of dueling King rallies ["Dueling banjos" clip] That's the idea. I can't say I'm really clued in to Glen Beck. I've never watched his show, though I catch him sometimes on O'Reilly, where he seems like an amiable and amusing fellow. I do know this about him though: When he mentions a book on his show, it goes straight to the best-seller lists. Now as it happens, my own book is coming out in paperback next month, so I'd like to say this to Glen Beck: PLEASE MENTION MY BOOK ON YOUR SHOW! I'LL DO ANYTHING! PLEASE, GLEN, PLEASE!
Item: The latest winners in Obama's Race to the Top education initiative were announced this week. I posted a wee rant about it on the main National Review website. Bottom line here is that a state can get points for moving things around in its education bureaucracy, and states that score enough points get big cash grants out of those big wooden chests filled with gold bars that they keep in the White House basement. My state got seven hundred million dollars. Isn't that just what we need? — seven hundred million dollars flowing into the public sector, generating more government jobs. Of course it is. Thank you, Mr. President!
Item: I got tongues a-clicking in The Corner a few weeks ago when I pointed out that the war in the eastern Congo, which saw off several million people from 1993 to 2003, barely registered in Western consciousness. Did so register, the tongue-clickers told me, we were all making a terrific fuss about it. I guess I was just watching the wrong TV shows. Anyway, that horrible conflict has now come to the attention of the United Nations, better late than never I guess. In a 545-page report, the U.N. human rights monitors accuse the Rwandan Army of committing genocide. They're going to send Hans Blix to Rwanda to make the government there 'fess up, or else. [Team America clip: "Or else what?" "Or else we will be very, very angry with you …"]
Item: Oh boy, the U.N. human rights monitors have been really busy this week. Here they are again scolding the president of France for deporting Romanian gypsies en masse. The gypsies have been flooding into Western Europe and making a great nuisance of themselves, living in filthy makeshift camps in the countryside and supporting themselves by poaching, stealing, prostitution, drug trafficking, and the exploitation of children for begging, sometimes breaking the kids' legs so they'll beg more effectively. Italy's planning expulsions too, in response to strong popular demand. This is a nasty problem all over Europe since the European countries opened their borders to each other. The gypsies are Europeans too, but nomads with no real home nation, and their antisocial ways rub everyone up the wrong way. Quite humane and thoughtful Europeans start foaming at the mouth when you raise the topic of the gypsies. I don't know what the solution is here, or even if there is one, but this will be a running story out of Europe for many years to come.
Item: Finally, a restaurant in Berlin has asked people to donate body parts to their kitchen, so that diners can enjoy a cannibal treat. What is it with the Germans and cannibalism? Remember that creepy guy a couple of years ago, also in Germany, who cooked and ate a volunteer? Anyway, I'm told this new restaurant is going to be really expensive. Dinner for two there will cost you an arm and a leg. [Groans]
09 — Signoff. On that note of Radio Derb's trademark exquisite good taste, I leave you, ladies and gentlemen. I hate to leave you sunk in gloom, though. Well, no, I don't really hate to; I just feel I should try to soften the blow once in a while. So here's something defiantly upbeat to see us out. I dedicate it to Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, my friends on the Street, Bristol Palin, and my long-suffering wife. More from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Fred Astaire, Let's Face the Music]