• Play the sound file
[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
01 — Intro. Radio Derb on the air, folks. This is your lugubriously genial host John Derbyshire with all the week's news.
A good week for conservatives, with public-sector unions, National Public Radio, Sheila Jackson Lee, CAIR and Harry Reid all pushed on to the defensive. They'll be back, I'm sure; but victory is sweet, however temporary it may prove.
[Sound of demonstrators chanting … gunfire … explosions.]
Yes, the battle rages on, with the rebels still assaulting the capital while the authorities struggle to repel them. Latest news is that the government is getting control of the situation, the rebels are being gradually pushed back.
Wow — who would have thought things could get so violent, in Wisconsin of all places? I mean, Wisconsin … I mean, what do you come up with on a word-association test with "Wisconsin"? Cheese. Badgers. Oshkosh. Pickled fish. Guys named Lars and girls named Anna. Cheese. Oh yeah. My name is Yon Yonson, I come from Wisconsin.
It's just not the kind of place where you'd expect a major political donnybrook to take place. So that was surprise number one. Surprise number two was that in this particular fight, Republicans showed some smarts and some backbone. Republicans with backbone! — Who knew?
We kid a lot about Republicans being the Stupid Party. I know, I've used the phrase myself. It's not really stupidity, though, more a kind of cluelessness about what the other side is up to. Democrats are ruthless and relentless. They fight, as dirty as they have to, till they get what they want. If anything, Republicans are the nice party.
Put it another way, Democrats are the party that gets what they want, Republicans are the party that gives Democrats what they want. Well, not in this Wisconsin fight.
I guess you know the story. Wisconsin's in a budget hole. The Republican governor, with the support — thanks to November's elections — of a Republican state senate and a Republican state assembly, sent over a bill to curtail public-sector unions' bargaining rights and make public workers pay a teensy bit more for their gold-plated pension and health-care packages.
Even that, truth be told, is just pecking at the problem, which is that public-sector unions should not exist. They are a complete perversion of the democratic process. Still, politics is the art of the possible, and all praise to Governor Walker for doing what he could do.
The assembly passed the bill, but the state senate didn't have quite enough Republicans to make a quorum. You need a quorum before there can be a vote on budgetary measures. Democrat senators fled the state, so no quorum, no vote.
Governor Scott Walker took constitutional advice from some respectable heavyweight bodies: the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Bureau. They all agreed that so long as the bill was not a budgetary measure, no quorum was necessary.
The Governor accordingly stripped out the strictly budgetary proposals from the bill, the state senate passed it Wednesday, and the assembly passed it Thursday afternoon. Game, set, and match.
The Democrats, who get most of their funds from these public-sector unions, are spitting mad. Leftist demonstrators tried to occupy the state capitol, even climbing in through the windows; 200 were camped in there Wednesday night, and many had to be carried out by police before state business could resume Thursday morning. They packed the public galleries and did what they could to disrupt the people's business, stamping and screaming. Republican legislators were getting lurid death threats.
It all made a most interesting contrast with the lectures on "civility" we've been getting recently from our Democratic administration.
Just a couple of points here. First, if this is what happened when Wisconsin did this little bit of trimming to balance its budget, imagine what we're in for when California, New York, and Illinois bite their much bigger bullets — as they will have to sooner or later, and probably sooner.
The fat years for public-sector workers are over, but their unions, and the Democratic Party, and all the leftist groups who suck on the public teat, are going to fight in the last ditch to preserve their power and wealth and privileges. There are more Wisconsins ahead.
Second, as I've said before, actual public-sector workers are mostly decent people who can't be blamed for taking the sweetheart deals the unions got for them. I know public-sector workers and you do too. In post-industrial America, public-sector work is all the work there is with decent job security anbd a dependable pension; it's hard to blame people.
And there's been an implicit deal lurking behind the expansion of the public sector. With a dwindling number of middle-class jobs, politicians vastly expanded public services. Mostly they did this by expanding the client base, (a) by inventing all sorts of new "rights" that had to be monitored and enforced, and (b) by importing a huge new underclass that needed servicing.
This caused all sorts of social strains and wrecked a lot of towns and cities — and even a couple of states — but it created lots of new jobs for middle-class citizens.
I know a lady — not the one I'm married to — whose public-sector job is to help recent immigrants with the Medicaid application process. That's what she does all day long: show new immigrants from China how to get Medicaid.
It's as if the United States government had said to the citizens:
Let's make a deal. We'll bring in a lot of cheap labor from the Third World, to fill up your towns and cities and schools and hospitals. Sure, that's disagreeable, and you may feel you have to move to the suburbs. Sorry about that. But we'll create all sorts of public-service jobs you can fill, taking care of this new underclass. With total job security and great benefits!
In an America in which private-sector job security is a fading memory, that's not a bad deal. It was pure short-termism, of course, bound to break the bank at last, like everything politicians do, but I still say you can't blame citizens for signing on to it.
03 — Exposing NPR. Rogue investigative journalist James O'Keefe struck again, with a clever sting operation against National Public Radio, getting one of their executives to say on-camera all the things we've always known NPR executives believe — that people who don't go along with left-liberal orthodoxy are all grunting fascists.
It was a lot of fun following this story, but didn't you feel a wee twinge of guilt? It's like the WikiLeaks business: You're chuckling with glee at what was revealed, while wondering if the method of revelation was altogether kosher.
For a conservative there's less to lose sleep over here, as O'Keefe himself is conservative. Still and all, you can't help wishing there was some way to get these liberal and lefty weasels to say out loud how much they despise their fellow-citizens, without using trickery.
The NPR exec, name of Ron Schiller, directed his most vituperative comments at the Tea Partiers. Sample quote:
They believe in, sort of, white, middle-class, gun-toting … it's scary. They are seriously racist, racist people.
Speaking as a white middle-class guy with two handguns and a shotgun in his house, I take that personally. As for "racist" — who knows what that means any more? I used to think it had something to do with lynching people and burning crosses on folks' front lawns, but since those are extremely rare occurrences nowadays, while vast segments of the population get accused of "racism" every day of the week, that does not compute.
If "racist" means preferring to associate with some races over others, then psychologists will tell you, and patterns of voluntary residential segregation will show you, that around ninety percent of us are "racist."
If we're also complicit in voluntary educational segregation, which most Americans are, then I guess we're double racist — or as Mr Schiller says, "racist, racist."
Well, Ron Schiller left his job at NPR to spend more time with his family, or something. NPR themselves issued the following statement, quote:
We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for.
Boy, they really do think we're stupid, don't they?
There's some talk now that NPR will lose its government funding. That would be great, and long overdue, but I'll believe it when I see it. These parasitic leftist outfits have better survival skills than cockroaches.
Still, all things considered, this was one of the cheerier news stories. And when you look at the crude violence and intimidation practiced by the leftists in Wisconsin, I don't think we should mind James O'Keefe's underhand methods too much. They're not very kind; but then, neither is a roach motel.
04 — Peter King's hearings on terrorism. I'm a bit sour on Rep. Peter King's congressional hearings on Islamic terrorism.
For one thing I have never been able to forget King's loud and active support for Irish terrorism, and how he very suddenly saw the light and became keenly anti-terrorist … when? When was it? Round about September 12th, 2001, I think it was. I therefore have trouble pushing away the suspicion that Rep. King is a hypocritical blowhard. Although if that's what he is, then goodness knows, he's in the right line of work.
For another thing, I don't mind Islam, though I think we've been very stupid to let so many Muslims settle in the West. A lot of people have trouble with this, so let me have another go at explaining myself.
Let's break down the major points of view here.
I disagree with all these people. I have no problem with Islam. It's an ancient religion that has served as the organizing principle for significant civilizations, and that provides comfort and consolation to hundreds of millions of people. Yay, Islam!
Sure I think that the tenets of Islam are all false; but then, as an unbeliever, I think the same of all religions. As my colleague Andrew Stuttaford put it so memorably: I don't have a God in this fight.
At the same time, I'd like to see Islam kept out of Western countries. It just doesn't mix.
I deny there is any contradiction here. You can like pistachio ice cream and you can like curried chicken, without wishing to see them both on the same plate. You can like cats and dogs both, without wanting both in your house at the same time.
The U.S.A. is not a homeless shelter. We don't have to admit anyone who wants to come in. This is our country. If we want to exclude from settlement all Muslims, or all red-heads, or all cross-eyed Rastafarian hunchbacks, we may do so without violating a single sentence of our Constitution. It's our country; it's up to us.
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference includes 56 or 57 nations, depending on which website you look at. Any Muslim who wants to change countries is spoiled for choice.
There is no constitutional, national, or moral imperative to let Muslims settle here in large numbers, and we should not have done so. I can't see any positives from it, and the negatives are rather obvious. It was a dumb idea.
Islam is fine in its own countries. I wish it, and them, well. I just don't want Islam here in force. What is wrong with this position?
05 — Libya, uh-huh. Fighting is still going on in Libya. Something something Gaddafy something rebels something something … zzzzzzzz.
06 — Europe panics over boat people. The ructions in North Africa have at least exposed the cynicism and hypocrisy of the European nations in respect of African immigration.
See, you have this big old smug continent of lavish welfare states, high living standards, but dwindling birth rates; and a couple of hundred miles to the south, across some mostly placid waters, you have this whole other continent.
The nearer part of that other continent is not so bad. It's poor and its Muslim, but the population isn't so big. From Morocco across to Egypt you've got 167 million people — about the same as Mexico plus Central America, and with total fertility rates, children per woman, down around — in some cases actually below — replacement level. A problem, but manageable, given a lttle resolution on the Europeans' part.
South of those countries lies the Sahara, by no means as much of a barrier as in times past. South of that is black Africa: 800 million ill-educated people, great numbers of them living in circumstances of desperate poverty and chronic insecurity.
And in contrast to Europe and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa is wonderfully fecund. If you go to the CIA World Factbook and run a country comparison on total fertility rate, children per woman, the top twelve nations are all in sub-Saharan Africa. Number 13 is Afghanistan, 5.39 children per woman. Then there's another run of twelve sub-Saharan African countries before you get to number 26, the Gaza Strip.
Twenty-eight of the top thirty nations are in sub-Saharan Africa.
Demography is destiny, the saying goes. Well, it's some of destiny. Ge-ography is a big part of the rest. The Europeans are very well aware of those teeming millions to their south, though of course they are much too polite to talk about the issue openly.
Here's a report from Wednesday's New York Times, spilling the beans to anyone who didn't already know. Quote:
The turmoil in Libya and elsewhere in the region has toppled or undermined North African dictators who negotiated a web of benefits from Europe, including aid and diplomatic standing, in return for stopping immigrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean.
In other words, there's been a nice little bribery racket going on across the Mediterranean. Europe to North Africa: "Please, oh pur-leez, don't let all those desperate dark people come and overwhelm our nice tidy little continent." North Africa to Europe: "Hey, no prob! We'll give you a nice deal on this: twenty billion a year, full diplomatic recognition … oh, and send us a regular supply of your nubile young women."
Now the Euro-weenies are looking at the prospect of this whole bribery racket breaking down. With no coherent government in North Africa, people will be taking to the boats: first the North Africans themselves, then, when the word has crossed the Sahara, the surplus populations of countries with annual per capita GDP eighty dollars and total fertility rate six point something.
Here's the New York Times again, reporting from the Italian island of Lampedusa, quote:
The Italian police tow in boats full of desperate immigrants — about 6,000 refugees in the past two months. Young men in hooded jackets smoke cigarettes and await transfer to the mainland — a prospect that is striking fear in many European hearts.
You can't say the Times doesn't have a sense of humor, though. At any rate I got a chuckle, though a somewhat bitter one, out of this passage, quote:
Unable to build the kind of border fence that the United States has erected to keep Mexicans at home, countries like Spain and Italy have spent years forging close relationships with North African leaders, persuading them to prevent migrants from trying to sail the rough seas of the Mediterranean.
Ah yes, that wonderful fence along our southern border …
But what's vexing the Europeans today will vex us tomorrow. The Atlantic is a tougher sail than the Mediterranean; but with cheap hand-held GPS gadgets, it's not that tough any more.
In fact the U.S.A. has already received boat people from sub-Saharan Africa. Four years ago a catamaran with fourteen young men from Senegal on it was picked up by the Coast Guard off Long Island. They were interned in New Jersey. Probably they were then deported back to Senegal — I haven't been able to find out. There will be more, you can bet on it.
So let's not be too smug as the Europeans writhe and squirm to reconcile their politically-correct public cultures with their terror of being overwhelmed by boatloads of African refugees. This is going to be a big issue world-wide in years to come. It's already a major topic of public debate in Australia.
The wretched of the earth are on the move, and we'd better start thinking about the implications.
07 — Defund us not on the lone prairie. So … what are Democrats willing to cut from the federal budget? Not a damn thing. Certainly not the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Here's Harry Reid in the Senate chamber the other day:
[Clip: Harry Reid: "The National Endowment for the Humanities is the reason we have in northern Nevada every January a Cowboy Poetry Festival. Had that program not been around, the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist."]
Leaving aside the obvious ontological point there, this cries out for an appropriately cowboy-poetical response. I rise to the challenge.
[Mournful fiddle music]
"Defund us not on the lone prairie."
08 — Fix the schools! Here's another thing the Democrats don't want to cut: education.
I did a lot of research on education for my education chapter in We Are Doomed, and I'm afraid it left me a complete cynic. Politicians and media blowhards mouth off about education the way Ella Fitzgerald used to scat sing when she couldn't remember the words. None of it means anything.
Take the phrase "bad schools," for example. Our federal education secretary was saying the other day that we need to, quote, "close bad schools." Yet we have decades of data on school quality, and it all tells the same story: Other things being equal, a school needs to be spectacularly, sensationally bad to affect student outcomes.
Practically no schools are that bad. My stock answer if someone asks me what to do about bad schools is: "Fill 'em up with Korean students." Problem solved!
I mean, what is it that people think is bad about these schools? The sheetrock is substandard? The wiring isn't up to code? What, exactly, is bad?
Well here was Obama again at TechBoston Academy in Dorchester, Mass. the other day. TechBoston is one of those schools that takes students in by lottery. Which is to say, it starts with highly motivated students and parents. It "graduates the vast majority of its students and sends the vast majority of graduates to college," says the Boston Globe website.
As usual there is no data on dropout rates. And even with the selection bias and all sorts of favors and waivers, even with longer schooldays and lessons going on into July and August, results are average. To be precise, going from the test results posted on GreatSchools.net, four percentage points above state average in math, seven points below in English, science results not posted.
Quote from the President's speech at TechBoston, quote: "What's needed is not either/or, it's not either more money or more reform, it's both/and — both more money and more reform. That's what's needed."
Right, Mr. President. Gotta spend more, always more. Kids just can't learn unless the federal government is constantly throwing money at them, right?
Further quote: "Even as we find ways to cut spending, we cannot cut back on job-creating investments like education."
Just roll that phrase around on your tongue: "job-creating investments like education." The country's fourteen trillion dollars in the hole, and Obama wants to stuff more money in the pockets of teacher unions and hand out laptops to kids on the first day of school — he actually said that.
Listener: Read up some actual education stats. The Cato website, Cato.org, is a great resource. I also recommend Bob Weissberg's recent book Bad Students, Not Bad Schools.
Federal education policy is a gigantic fraud. In 1961 when John F. Kennedy called for us to put a man on the moon, we spent less than $4,000 per student per year, almost none of it federal money. Now we spend twelve thousand, one thousand of it federal — this is inflation-adjusted, of course.
Now go check out test scores across the period: They are flat as a pancake, flat as a politician's promise. It's a fraud, a hoax, a scam. The best thing we could do for American education would be to get the federal government the hell out of it.
Well, I told you I was cynical. Read it up like I did: you'll be cynical, too.
09 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: Just to follow on from that last: meet the schools superintendent for Buffalo, New York, name of James Williams. Superintendent Williams presides over a drop-out rate of 47 percent and a district financial deficit of $62 million. He takes home a nice paycheck, though: nearly $225,000 a year.
New York state, however, is in deep fiscal trouble. Our governor, Andrew Cuomo, wants to cap superintendent salaries at $175,000. At a news conference last week, Superintendent Williams told reporters he'd leave the district if the salary cap went through. He wasn't going to work for no steenkin' $175,000.
Buffalo's a pretty poor place, and when Buffalonians heard about this, there was general outrage. Williams responded by denying he'd said he'd quit. BuffaloNews.com then posted a sound clip of him saying it. At that point the superintendent's office stopped returning phone calls.
Here's another sound clip, highly relevant to the priorities of our educational establishment today. [Ker-ching.]
Item: Crime of the week, quote from Fox News:
A Brink's security employee had placed three sacks of cash containing a total $1.6 million in the hold of the Air Antilles plane before it took off from the French island of Guadeloupe. The security guard took his seat to enjoy the flight. But when the plane landed on Saint Martin forty minutes later it was discovered that $238,000 was missing.
What apparently happened was that a passenger who knew about the shipment shut himself in one of the plane's bathrooms pretending to be ill. From there he removed panels to get access to the cargo hold.
How come nobody thought of this before? Planes are flimsy lightweight things, all thin plastic paneling. D.B. Cooper could have saved himself a lot of trouble.
Radio Derb predicts more such heists, or else a worldwide time limit on airplane bathroom visits.
Item: I may be irreligious, but I'll be damned if I'm anti-religious. I mean, of course, I would be damned … well, never mind.
Anyway, here's a kind couple in Derbyshire, England. Nothing selective about these news items! Their names are Owen and Eunice Johns. In their early sixties, the Johnses have four children and six grandchildren.
Their grandchildren are lucky, because Mr and Mrs Johns really like kids: They have been foster parents to fifteen children so far. Social workers have praised them as, quote, "kind and hospitable people who respond sensitively to youngsters."
The Johnses are, however, Pentecostal Christians who believe homosexuality is sinful. That brought them up against Britain's laws against homophobia. When they applied recently to foster more children, the municipal authorities turned them down.
The Johnses appealed all the way up to England's equivalent of the Supreme Court, but they lost every case. Quote from Mrs Johns: "All we were not willing to do was to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing." Quote from Mr Johns: "We wanted to offer love and stability and security to a vulnerable child. Eight-year-olds we have looked after want to play, not talk about their sexuality."
Obviously there is something deeply wrong with eight-year-olds who would prefer to play rather than discuss techniques of buggery. Coming soon to a U.S. jurisdiction near you.
Item: Finally, just a little shout-out here to a subset of the adult population I have just started noticing.
I took the family mutt for a nice long walkies the other day. Along the way we passed the local elementary school, which had a crossing guard on duty outside. School was in session, so the lady had nothing much to do. We greeted each other and she smiled at Toby. Then she put a hand in her pocket and brought out a milk bone dog biscuit. Toby was highly appreciative.
I recalled that this happens quite often. Some significant proportion of my fellow-citizens carry milk-bone treats around with them all day, every day, to give to the occasional dog they meet.
I'd like to offer a hearty collective "Thank you!" to this demographic, and append the thought that a world with such people in it can't be such a bad place, for all the horrors you read about in the newspapers.
Near the end of his life Dr Johnson said: "I have found the world kinder than I expected, but less just." Heading into the home stretch of my own life, I am bound to agree.
Oh, and Toby thanks all those people too.
10 — Signoff. That's it, folks. As we go to tape here Friday morning, the full scale of the calamity in Japan is becoming apparent. Hundreds of people are dead and there is massive property damage.
It's salutary to be reminded that as we froth and fume over the fine points of politics and war, there are greater forces than anything that we can unleash, shifting and stirring a couple of miles below our feet. Cherish and enjoy your serenity and security: it can end in a heartbeat.
With Harry Reid in mind, here's a real cowboy to see us out.
[Music clip: Tex Ritter, "O Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie."]