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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
01 — Intro. Radio Derb is on the air! This is your solitarily genial host John Derbyshire with highlights from the week's news.
I say "solitarily" because, alas, young Alexandra Wallace didn't work out as my new research assistant. I've had to let her go. It was bad enough that she was always talking too loud on her cell phone; but when her relatives started showing up and doing their laundry in the grotto, that was the last straw.
So here I am once again bereft. Cue Gilbert O'Sullivan: [Clip: Gilbert O'Sullivan, "Alone again, naturally"] You can always depend on an Irishman for a note of melancholy.
And melancholy is of course entirely appropriate for a news broadcast, given the unholy mess our country has gotten itself into. "Messes," I should say — there are so many, I'm losing count.
Take the federal government budget, for example. It's not just one mess, it's two: the 2011 budget mess, and the 2012 budget mess. Let's start with the 2011 budget mess.
02 — 2011 budget mess. Just to remind you: The nation is currently in the seventh month of the 2011 fiscal year, which began last October. The federal government should therefore be operating under the 2011 budget.
And so we would be, except that Congress omitted to pass one. They were too busy doing something much more important, though nobody can remember what it was. So we've been limping along this year on "continuing resolutions," keeping the federal behemoth fed for a few weeks at a time.
The latest of these stopgap measures expires tonight, Friday the 8th. The options on offer from the Republican leadership of the House have been:
Wednesday the House voted, on a pretty straight party-line vote, for the one-week extension. President Obama promptly said he'd veto the bill if it got to his desk — so promptly, in fact, he said that even before the House voted. Harry Reid said it would be DOA in the Senate. So good job there passing that one, guys.
There's a lot of political gaming going on here, of course. Everyone involved is trying to think five moves ahead: "If I do this, chances are he'll do that, which gives me an opening to say this, to which he'll most likely respond by doing that, … and so on. The Library of Congress copy of von Neumann and Morgenstern must be getting pretty dog-eared at this point.
I confess to complete detachment from this whole drama. The only emotion it arouses in me is disgust — disgust that this great nation should come to such a pass, our politicians bickering and gaming while real, dire problems are coming rolling in over the sea walls. Shame on them all, shame, shame.
If I had any power in the matter, I'd shut the damn thing down and keep it shut down, for a couple of years at least. Practically everything the federal government does is harmful, or at best futile. If they could do nothing, we'd all be better off.
An encouraging example here is Belgium, a nation so rich in diversity that one of its major demographic groups, the Flemish, has a secessionist party that won 17 percent of the national vote — and that, mind you, in one of those European systems so clogged with minor parties that no party can ever get a majority. To form a government, you have to bolt some kind of coalition together.
Well, the last government of Belgium resigned April 26th last year. There was an election in June, but the result was so inconclusive, no-one's been able to form a government yet. The government that resigned last April is now so lame-duck it's more like duck à l'orange.
Belgium has been without a real government for 299 days. On March 29th Belgium tied with Iraq for longest period without a government, 289 days, and there were joyful demonstrations in the streets of the capital, people handing out flowers and — for some reason, don't ask me — french fries to strangers. If the Belgians can hold out for another 55 days they'll break the world record of 353 days, currently held by Cambodia. Then they'll really have a carnival, I'm sure.
Jolly good luck to them, and all congratulations on having got rid of their government for nearly a year. We Americans can only dream of being so lucky. But hey, let's dream.
03 — 2012 budget mess. That's the 2011 budget mess. Then there's the 2012 budget mess.
To be fair to the congresscritters, the 2012 budget isn't a mess yet as they haven't really had much time to maul it.
Reminders again: President Obama offered his proposal for a 2012 budget back in February. Radio Derb commented on it back then, in our February 18 broadcast, from which the following quote. Quote from me:
Most of it is just empty blather about hiring new teachers, as if that is any business of the federal government, "cutting waste" in government operations, as if anyone knows how to do that, and "investing in American innovation," which, if it means anything, which of course it doesn't, would mean industrial policy — the surest macroeconomic loser of all time.
End of self-quote.
Well, this week the House Republicans came out with their budget proposals. Representative Paul Ryan, who's chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave us an overview in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday. Reading it, my heart sank.
Look, I'm a grown-up. This is politics, and politics is the art of the possible. Really, though, the Ryan budget is tame stuff. In his Journal article, Ryan highlights the following — one by one, with my comments.
Reducing spending, quote: "This budget proposes to bring spending on domestic government agencies to below 2008 levels, and it freezes this category of spending for five years," end quote. You remember 2008, and the strict financial rigors we were operating on back then, right? After five years at those 2008 spending rates, what shall we then revert to? The 2009 spending rates?
Welfare reform, quote: "This budget will build upon the historic welfare reforms of the late 1990s," end quote. This is the least bad part of the proposal, with sensible reforms of Medicaid, food stamps, job training, and corporate welfare. You can be sure the government-workers unions and big corporate lobbies will soon stuff it all back in the box, but the intention is good.
Health and retirement security, quote: "This budget's reforms will protect health and retirement security. This starts with saving Medicare." End quote. Yeah, Medicare is the monster. What's the reform? Transition to the health-care program that members of Congress enjoy. Wow, that's gotta be good. When do we transition? "Starting in 2022." Oh.
Budget enforcement, quote: "Real, enforceable caps on spending — to make sure government spends and taxes only as much as it needs to fulfill its constitutionally prescribed roles," end quote. Wow! How come nobody thought of that before? Oh wait, they did. Who did? Phil Gramm, Ernie Hollings, and Warren Rudman. Back in 1985.
Tax reform, quote: "This budget would focus on growth by reforming the nation's outdated tax code, consolidating brackets, lowering tax rates, yada yada. Yeah, been there, done that, too: Gephardt-Bradley, 1986.
And as feeble as it is — not a single federal department eliminated, not a single major entitlement axed, nothing on Social Security, nothing on our military extravagance — as feeble as it is, Ryan's budget is too bold for us. Not just for Democrats, for Republicans, too.
Charles Gasparino, who does business commentary for Fox News, tried to get Republican 2012 Presidential hopefuls to comment on the Ryan budget. They dived into their bunkers. Most have said nothing at all.
Mitt Romney, after an eight-hour consultation with his spin doctors, emerged to say that Ryan is, quote, "setting the right tone for getting spending and entitlements under control." Then he ducked right back into his bunker. When Gasparino tried to call him, he wouldn't return the call.
Tim Pawlenty really went out on a limb, praising Ryan for offering, quote, "real leadership." He wouldn't reurn Gasparino's follow-up calls either, though. The other candidates have said nothing — except Sarah Palin, who probably isn't a candidate, and anyway was no more specific than Romney and Pawlenty.
And who can blame these pols? I said Ryan's budget proposals are too bold for us. That's "us" as in "we, the people." Nobody wants anything cut. The magnitude of this crisis hasn't registered with we, the people. When I see TV news interviews with ordinary Americans, they all say they're tired of the politicians gaming and wish they'd all stop being so extreme, and find some middle ground.
Middle ground? Budget-wise, the Democrats are on the 50-yard line, the Republicans are on the 40-yard line, and the only hope of getting this country back to fiscal health is somewhere in the end zone. Middle ground?
Call me a cockeyed pessimist, but the way I look at it, the house is on fire and the Democrats want to throw a bucket of gasoline on it. Congressional Republicans are saying: Let's try a bucket of water instead. May we please? OK, how about a jug of water?
And I really should stop blaming them. This is democracy in action. They're doing what we want them to do. They're playing pinochle in the lounge of the S.S. Titanic — not because they are stupid or venal, though a lot of them are, but because they're our representatives, and that's what we want them to do.
Time for a quote from T.S. Eliot, quote: "Humankind cannot bear very much reality." Truer words were never spoken.
04 — Radio Derb's budget proposal. You want a budget proposal? We've got one. Here are some real spending cuts for you. Herewith the radio Derb 2012 budget proposal.
All right, I'm getting into some non-budget-critical stuff there, but you get the idea. We have way, way too much government, and most of it does nothing but cause trouble. If Belgium can cope without government, so can we.
Or do you want to tell me we're less capable than Belgians? Of course you don't.
[Clip: Beverly Hillbillies intro.]
Here's a little upbeat item that tickled my fancy, also from the Wall Street Journal, last Tuesday's edition. Headline: "Could Israel Become an Energy Giant?" Wow, that would be a game changer. Let's see what the odds are.
Not terrific, but by no means negligible. is the short answer. Israel currently imports nearly all its oil and natural gas, the oil from the various bits and pieces of the old Soviet Union, the gas from Egypt. That makes the country dependent on some very undependable sources.
However, Israel seems to have lots of oil. Trouble is, it's shale oil. That's trouble because, in the first place, shale oil is expensive to extract, and in the second, the extraction uses a lot of water, of which the Middle East does not have an abundance.
Still, there's a lot of shale oil there — around a quarter trillion barrels — which is to say, about forty times the U.S.A.'s annual consumption of oil. You can get natural gas out of oil shale, too. With the price of oil currently going through the roof, and world demand still rising, Israel's deposits are starting to look good.
I like this story, which I'm putting under the heading "Beverly Hills Sabras." I have this vision of a State Department conference circa 2021, where one State bureaucrat says to another: "We can't afford to offend the Israelis, you know — they're one of our main oil suppliers."
As Bret Stephens, who wrote the Journal piece, observes, the Middle East is full of surprises.
Israel itself has delivered a few. Jews used to be pedlars, merchants, and scholars. Then came the 1967 Six-Day War and suddenly they were invincible warriors. Next thing we know they'll be oil sheikhs, lounging in palaces with gold trim on the bathroom fixtures and dropping the odd million on the tables at Monte Carlo.
Well, good luck to them. At least we'll have someone new to blame when gas prices hit ten dollars a gallon.
06 — Carelessness in Libya. Speaking of the Middle East, how are the wars going there? What are we up to this week — three, is it?
Oh, no, seems we're back down to two again. The Obamarrhoids, after two weeks of combat operations over Libya, announced that we're quitting. Not that we figure we've won, or lost, or even made any kind of point; just that we're bored with the whole thing and will go do something else.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote somewhere of, quote, "the great carelessness of the rich." That's the rich for you. Something catches their eye: They pick it up and play with it a while; then they lose interest, put it down somewhere, and forget all about it.
Obama and his people are like that: spoiled, pampered trustafarians who cannot even imagine any limits to their nation's wealth, or to their own scope of action.
Libya? Oh, they're being beastly to someone or other over there. We have this huge military establishment. We can spare a few planes. Let's go bomb them for a while — that'll stop them.
[Bombing commences. Continues for two weeks.]
"Er, Mr President, should we continue this bombing campaign?"
"Bombing campaign? What bombing campaign?"
"You know, Sir, the one against Gaddafy in Libya."
"Oh, that. Did it fix whatever it was we were trying to fix?"
"No, Sir. Degraded their ground forces some, killed a few civilians, but basically … no."
"Oh, well, call it off then, otherwise we'll look ineffectual. Hey, did you hear what's happening in Ivory Coast? There's this rebellion …"
I can't improve on the list of rhetorical questions asked by my colleague Victor Davis Hanson on NRO the other day, so I shall just quote Professor Hanson here. Long quote:
Was the bombing to stop the killing, to help the rebels, to remove Qaddafi, or to aid the British and French, who both have considerable oil interests in Libya? Were we enforcing just a no-fly zone, establishing a sort-of-no-fly zone with occasional attacks on ground targets, or secretly sending in American operatives on the ground to work with rebels? Did the Obama administration go well beyond the Arab League and United Nations resolutions by trying to target Qaddafi for a while and ensure that the rebels won? If so, did anyone care? Was the administration ever going to ask for congressional approval — at a time when we are running a $1.6 trillion annual budget deficit and have about 150,000 troops committed in Afghanistan and Iraq? Was Libya a greater threat to our national security than Syria or Iran, or a greater humanitarian crisis than Congo or the Ivory Coast? Are our new allies, the rebels, Westernized reformers, Islamists, or both — or neither?
End long quote. Those are questions to which the answers are not known. The Obama administration will not be supplying the answers because they've got bored with Libya and are now thinking about something else.
The great carelessness of the rich. In a way, the coming fiscal apocalypse is to be welcomed. It will mean the U.S.A. won't be rich any more.
If we won't be rich any more, perhaps we won't be careless any more. That will be an improvement.
07 — Al-Qaeda returns to Afghanistan. In other war news, we read that al-Qaeda has re-established training camps in Afghanistan.
You may remember that it was al-Qaeda's training camps in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that brought us the 9/11 attacks. We quickly figured this out, and went after those training camps in our initial attack on Afghanistan in Fall of 2001. Al-Qaeda was driven out of Afghanistan and forced to regroup in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and upstate New York. Not exactly a fatal blow.
Now they're back. After ten years of U.S. military effort and over fifteen hundred military fatalities, we're almost back at square one. Last September we sent in air strikes against a guerilla training camp in the Korengal Valley. Among the dead from that strike were two senior al-Qaeda members, one Saudi and one Kuwaiti, along with one of Saudi Arabia's most wanted militant jihadis.
Where were our forces when al-Qaeda moved back in? Well, starting 18 months ago we pulled back from much of northeastern Afghanistan, considering the region sufficiently insignificant strategically we could safely leave it to Afghanistan's own security forces — the ones who, even as I speak, are having their regimental payrolls diverted to Hamid Karzai's Swiss bank account.
This is what happens when you play at war — when you dress up your war-making with sanctimony and womanish concern, when you imagine that defeating a ruthless enemy has something to do with winning hearts and minds.
War is about mass killing — killing your enemy until he cries uncle. That's what war is; that's what it's always been; that's what it always will be. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban understand that; we don't. That's why they're winning in Afghanistan.
My recommendation going forward would be to target those troublesome valleys with salvos of neutron bombs, killing everything that lives there. That would solve the immediate problem, and send a terrible warning to our enemies. In the long run it would save innumerable lives, as the nuclear bombing of Japan did, back when we knew how to win wars.
Of course, nothing like that will happen. We'll go on with our current pointless follies, meeting with tribal elders, building soccer fields for the kids, pretending that Karzai is a parliamentary democrat, and watching our brave soldiers die in a futile tribal squabble among savages.
And if you think "savages" is too strong a word, consider the recent riots in Afghanistan over the March 20th burning of a Koran by Pastor Terry Jones in Florida. Twenty-five people were hacked, stomped, burned or blasted to death in three Afghan cities as mobs protested the desecration of their holy book.
President Obama and his joint chiefs of course took the side of the Afghan mobs. Well, more or less. Obama said the murders were, quote, "deplorable and dishonorable." The burning of the Koran, however, was, quote, "an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry." You can weigh the two condemnations for yourself.
Gen. David Petraeus went further, calling the Koran burning, quote, "hateful, extremely disrespectful, and enormously intolerant." I can't run a comparison here with what Petraeus said about the people murdered by those protesting Afghan mobs, because he didn't mention them. All his wrath was directed at Pastor Jones.
In a later comment, Gen. Petraeus spoke of the, quote, "understandable passions" of the Afghan killers. To understand all is to forgive all, you see? Now let's get back to raging against Terry Jones, who set a book alight.
All we needed at this point was for Gen. George Casey to show up and tell us that what happened in Afghanistan was a tragedy, but it would be a greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty here. As it happened, Gen. Casey didn't show. Instead we got Senator Lindsey Graham: [Clip: "Freedom of speech is a great idea, but …"]
I'm going to register a change of opinion on the war in Afghanistan. Previously I thought we should get the hell out of there ASAP because there was no point whatever in our continuing unless we were willing to wage genuine war against the Afghans, which we obviously weren't.
That was my previous position. My new position is: We should get the hell out of there ASAP before Graham, McCain, Lieberman, and the rest of the Wilsonian neocons take away the last of our freedoms — strictly in the interests of "protecting our troops," you understand.
08 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: Bob Dylan gave a concert in China, at the Worker's Gymnasium in Peking. Given the well-known Chinese reverence for wrinkly oldsters, I imagine he got a respectful hearing, though if they could understand the words he was singing, their grasp of English is better than mine.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the ChiCom Ministry of Culture insisted on vetting his songs beforehand, and vetoed "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Blowin' in the Wind." Among the Dylan numbers that did get approved by the authorities were:
Item: Oh come on, Derb (I can hear you cry), celebrate a little diversity, why dontcha?
OK, just let me pull out my multicultural file here. What have we got?
How about this one, from the New York Daily News: A six-year-old girl, Frantzcia Saintil, whose family come from Haiti, had the misfortune to be possessed by a demon. Instead of doing the sensible thing and sending for Bobby Jindal, Frantzcia's mother tried to perform a home exorcism according to Haitian custom. She poured rum over the child's head and set it on fire.
Then the grandmother came in, a lady named Sylvenie Thessier. Ms Thessier, seeing her granddaughter with her head on fire, acted with commendable dispatch, pouring a glass of water over her, then putting her to bed.
In an act of shameful insensitivity to the vibrant folkways of our Haitian immigrants, Ms Thessier has just been sentenced to three years jail for reckless endangerment, the court being of the opinion that a child whose head has been set alight ought to receive some medical attention. The mother, name of Marie Lauradin, goes on trial in June.
You'd really expect a little more sympathy and understanding from the courts here, wouldn't you? While what happened to this child was a tragedy, it would be a greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty here.
Item: If you thought the Tour de France was tough, try this: the Tour de Pakistan.
No kidding. It starts in Karachi and goes all the way up to the northern city of Abbottabad a thousand miles away. Prize money is $10,000, split among the top ten finishers; or, if they prefer, a goat each.
The tour is theoretically international, but the organizers have only been able to persuade one nation to send a team — Afghanistan. Quote from the Afghan team leader, whose name is Hashmatullah Tookhy, quote:
In Afghanistan the situation is not good, and the security is not good. In Pakistan, the whole time we relax.
See, it's all relative, and there's always someone worse off than yourself.
This year's winner of the Tour de Pakistan was 24-year-old Sabir Ali, with a time of 44 hours, 35 minutes and 45 seconds and only minor shrapnel wounds.
Item: Archeologists in the Czech Republic have found what they believe to be the first instance of a gay cave-man.
Investigating an ancient burial place in a suburb of Prague, they came across a skeleton buried with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs. This type of burial has only previously been seen in female graves.
Quote from lead archeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova, quote:
We know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake.
She further explained that none of the objects that usually accompany male burials — such as weapons, stone battle axes and flint knives — were found in the grave; just those jugs and a simply fabulous piece of antique glassware.
09 — Signoff. OK, that's this week's ration. I do hope there were no factual errors in there. It's so hard to do all the proper fact-checking with no research assistants here to help. I really must figure out some way to get Mandy, Candy, and Brandy back from Turkmenistan.
I notice that once the campaign against Libya got going, Col. Gadaffy sent his Ukrainian nurses home to the Ukraine. So perhaps a brief bombing campaign might do the trick … Hey Rich, do we have a number for the State Department …
[Music clip: More Derbyshire Marches.]