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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
01 — Intro. The frost is on the punkin, the lights are on the tree, and Radio Derb is on the air! Yes folks, this is your seasonally genial host John Derbyshire, here to tell you who's been naughty and who's been nice this past seven days.
In the naughtiness stakes, it's hard to beat a totalitarian dictator who maintains his power through purges, massacres, labor camps, artificial famines, hermetically sealed borders, the annihilation of independent thought, and occasional atrocities abroad.
So let's begin the Christmas festivities by celebrating the passing of one such.
02 — KJI, RIP. It was nice to get some good news just in time for Christmas. I refer of course to the announcement last weekend that Kim Jong Il, Dear Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, assumed room temperature last Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.
The good news is qualified, of course. As odious as Kim was, his continued presence on the scene guaranteed a certain stability. Now that he's gone, nobody knows quite what will happen. Kim Jong Il was a devil, but he was at least the devil we knew.
Proprietorship of Kim's prison camp of a country has passed to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, who is either 27 or 28 years old. I tell you, it's awfully hard to get plain facts out of North Korea.
The government's propaganda department is hard at work promoting Kim Jong Un as a leader of extraordinary ability and sagacity. There is already a Kim Jong Un song that all schoolchildren are being required to learn. I haven't been able to get sheet music for the song yet, but I can read you some of the lyrics, just to give you the flavor. Quote:
Cheok, cheok, cheok [That's supposed to be a marching sound].
February is the month Kim Jong Il is supposed to have been born — it's kind of a holy month in North Korea.
Whether Kim Jong Un will actually have any power is an open question. This situation is not to be compared with 1994, when Kim Il Sung died and Kim Jong Il took over.
Kim Jong Il was already 53 years old in 1994. He'd been running communist party affairs for twenty years, and sitting in on Politburo meetings with the big men.
Kim Jong Un has nothing like that depth of experience. The analysts tell us his uncle Jang Sung-taek will be running the show, but who knows if there isn't some crafty general or apparatchik waiting for his opportunity?
A word about the mass displays of grief that followed Kim's death. You should assume that most of it is genuine. Even the worst kind of dictator needs to have some segment of the population loyal to him. For Kim it's been the military and party families permitted to live in the capital and two or three other big cities, with guaranteed food, clothing coupons, and education.
For a North Korean, the horror is to have to live in the countryside. For sparing them this horror, a couple of million North Koreans are grateful to the Kims, and correspondingly fearful of what changes might come now that a strong Kim has been replaced by an obviously weak one.
It wasn't hard to get some genuine mourning out of these people.
The main thing for the U.S.A. is not to do anything to prolong the regime, as we foolishly did in the 90s. We should give North Korea nothing, except assurances that any rogue nuclear attacks on us that might be traced to them will be repaid with interest, and without regard to anything but the satisfaction of our own people.
Should Kim Jong Un take umbrage at Radio Derb's failure to welcome him on the scene and commiserate with him over the Dear Leader's passing, he can take consolation in the knowledge that at least one other influential America voice has, quote from the Korean Central News Agency, quote:
extended condolences to Kim Jong Un and the Korean people over the demise of leader Kim Jong Il,
and has further, quote:
wished Kim Jong Un every success as he assumes his new responsibility of leadership,
and is yet further, quote:
looking forward to another visit to [North Korea] in the future.
Now which America sent that message? Shame on you, that boy in the back row who said "Barack Obama." No, that was our beloved ex-President Jimmy Carter, who even as I speak is striding up and down the living-room down there in Plains, practicing the Kim Jong Un song.
Come on now, Rosalynn, you can join in too: "Cheok, cheok, cheok, / When [he] steps vigorously, all the people follow, / Cheok, cheok, cheok …"
03 — Holder says criticism of him is racist. The pressure is growing on Attorney General Eric [Clip: "My people"] Holder to resign over the "Fast and Furious" scandal.
This, you'll recall, is the gun-walking operation run by ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, in 2009-2010. The background to the operations was, that Mexican drug gangs need lots of guns. Mexico's own laws on the purchase of firearms are very strict, so what the gangsters would do is, have someone in the U.S.A. go to a gun store and buy a crate of, say, AK-47s — a perfectly legal transaction in border states, so long as the buyer passes a background check. The buyer would then pass on the guns through a network of middle-men to the Mexican gangsters.
So what do you do to stop this flow of guns? Arresting the guy buying the crate of AK-47s doesn't work. It's been tried, and the courts throw out the cases.
So the ATF philosophy has been to let the guns "walk" a certain distance down the middleman network until you've got someone you can nail. You need to be able to tag the guns so you can prove they're the same ones all down the chain, but that's not too hard.
So that's gun-walking. It didn't start with Fast and Furious, which is why Holder's apologists are telling you it was all George W. Bush's idea. It's actually not a bad idea if practiced in a limited way, but Fast and Furious took it way too far, to a new level: it let those guns — more than two thousand of them — walk all the way across the border into Mexico.
The hope was to identify and neutralize a major node in the trafficking network, maybe even bring down one of the cartels at the end of the distribution chain.
The problems with this strategy were, (a) that the further you let the guns walk, the more chance you have of losing track of them, and (b) once they've walked across the border your investigation's complicated because now the Mexican authorities are involved. That's a problem because, (b1) two jurisdictions make for twice as many opportunities for turf fights and bureaucratic bungling as one, and (b2) the Mexican authorities are often, to use a delicate diplomatic adjective, "compromised" — which is to say, they're in cahoots with the gangsters.
Well, plenty of what could go wrong, did. Some guns were recovered, but most have gone missing — seventy percent, according to an ATF intelligence analyst giving congressional testimony this summer.
The last straw came in December last year, when border patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in a firefight on the Arizona border, likely by a gun that had been allowed to "walk" by Fast and Furious.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been trying to weasel his way out of responsibility for the operation, but that's hard for him to do without giving the impression he didn't know what his department was doing.
There's increasing dissatisfaction with Holder in Congress; 86 House members have signed petitions calling for him to resign. You can throw in two Senators, two governors, and every GOP presidential candidate.
It's so bad, there is even a rift in the Congressional Black Caucus. Rep. Elijah Cummings thinks there's a real scandal here, though it's probably the fault of the George W. Bush administration somehow. Rep. Hank Johnson on the other hand, taking a break from wondering if Guam might "tip over and capsize" if there are too many people there, said the whole thing was invented by the Tea Party, the NRA, and, quote, "white supremacists" to embarrass the president.
Holder himself shared his feelings with the New York Times last weekend. The entire thing, said Holder, came down to … what? can you guess? Yes, it's all driven by … wait for it … yes, by … wait for it … by … RACISM!
Quote from him, quote:
This is a way to get at the President because of the way I can be identified with him. Both due to the nature of our relationship and, you know, the fact that we're both African-American.
That was too much even for our race-whipped lamestream media. There were several calls for Holder to provide some, you know, evidence that racial hostility was behind the attacks on him.
Responding to the criticisms, Holder issued the following statement: [Clip: "I'm black, y'all…"]
[Clip: "Oh the humanity!"]
Yes, the Gingrich blimp is losing altitude fast.
Here are the latest polls I can find: they're from earlier this week.
It's not a Herman Cain-style crash and burn, but the blimp is gradually going down, and there are rumors of money troubles in the campaign.
Ron Paul's doing what I like seeing him do: Broadcasting some basic libertarian ideas out to the American public, getting people to ask a thing they should ask, to wit: Why, in a nation founded on the ideal of self-support, is the federal government doing so much that we and our communities ought to be able to do for ourselves, in those cases where it is worth doing at all?
Ron's not going to be President, though, and he's not going to make a third-party spoiler run either, not while Senator Rand Paul has a shotgun propped there behing the cabin door.
I'm not shedding any tears for Newt. I guess that's not news to regular Radio Derb listeners. On the other hand, I'm no more thrilled about a Romney ticket than the average Newt supporter is. To drive that point home, here's a golden oldie from my 2007 Christmas sing-along, slightly updated.
• It's the Mitt Romneyist Time of the Year
It's the Mitt Romneyest time of the year.
05 — War on Christmas. It wouldn't be Christmas without some War on Christmas stories. Here's one from Saugus, an outer suburb of Boston.
Saugus has a school system, and the school system of course has a superintendent, name of Richard Langlois. The town also has a fire chief: His name is James Blanchard.
You need to know about the fire chief because the custom in Saugus has been, the week before Christmas, for one of the fire-fighting vehicles with Santa aboard to swing by the town's elementary schools passing out coloring books to the students, who of course are thrilled by the event.
Well, first thing this last Monday morning, Chief Blanchard got a call from Superintendent Langlois — who, from his picture in the Saugus Advertiser, looks to have the pale cold blood of Increase Mather and Tribulation Wholesome coursing through his veins.
There would be no fire-truck-riding Santa this year, the superintendent told the chief, because the town authorities should refrain from favoring one religious holiday, that is Christmas, over others; and should more strictly observe separation between Church and State.
Things were then said and done behind the scenes. We don't know what the things were, but the Advertiser tells us that the super called the chief again around noon with permission for the Santa tour to go ahead after all: just as well, since 400 coloring books had already been ordered from Bob's Discount in Revere.
For a conservative, that's a kind of double-edged story. On the one hand we have a stone-faced joyless ideologue depriving little kids of a harmless treat. On the other hand, one of the very oldest and earliest of American traditions, the tradition of, well, stone-faced joyless ideology, is being kept alive by Superintendent Langlois. How conservative is that?
My personal opinion is that the good townspeople of Saugus should apply another fine old Massachusetts tradition and strap Superintendent Saugus to a ducking stool. Still, this is the heartland of Puritanism, and the other point, the point about conservatism, stands.
To reinforce it, the reader who kindly sent me that story attached the following passage from Thomas Babington Macaulay's History of England, Volume 1, Chapter 1. Macaulay's writing here about what he calls the "precisians," the more rigid of the Puritans who came to power under Oliver Cromwell in mid-17th-century England. Long quote:
Perhaps no single circumstance more strongly illustrates the temper of the precisians than their conduct respecting Christmas day. Christmas had been, from time immemorial, the season of joy and domestic affection, the season when families assembled, when children came home from school, when quarrels were made up, when carols were heard in every street, when every house was decorated with evergreens, and every table was loaded with good cheer. At that season all hearts not utterly destitute of kindness were enlarged and softened … Where there is much enjoyment there will be some excess: yet, on the whole, the spirit in which the holiday was kept was not unworthy of a Christian festival.
Having failed to impose the killjoy spirit on their fellow Englishmen, the Puritans took off to America, where they could impose it on each other, and on the local aborigines, without let or hindrance. The old English spirit of rebellion got here too, though, by a different route, and seems to have made itself felt in Saugus, Massachusetts this week. Long may it thrive.
06 — Punish the innocent, reward the guilty. Eric Holder again: The Justice Department has announced a settlement in the government's case against Bank of America, hereinunder referred to as "BofA."
The case alleged that BofA's Countrywide Financial unit discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers during the housing boom. Under the terms of the settlement, BofA has agreed to pay $335 million to plaintiffs.
OK, here's what happened in outline. Lending money to people who wanted to buy houses used to be a sober-sided, strait-laced sort of business, done by dull fellows sporting gray flannel suits and bad shaves, adhering to strict criteria about who was credit-worthy and who wasn't.
This led to disparate impact, since the proportion of non-creditworthy blacks and Hispanics is higher than the proportion of non-creditworthy whites and Asians. That got politicians riled up, so they leaned hard on lenders to loosen up their credit standards.
Faced with the prospect of battalions of government lawyers descending on them, the lenders obediently loosened. They got rid of the gray-flannel-suit guys and their stupid racist rules about who was and wasn't creditworthy, and brought in fast-talking carny barker types with loud ties and slick sales skills — slick enough to go into minority neighborhoods and sell mortgages the locals couldn't afford, with elevated fee schedules they couldn't understand.
The result, when the economy stalled, was that the people who'd been sold mortgages they couldn't afford defaulted on those mortgages. A stupendous housing crash followed.
Somebody had to take the blame. It was all the fault of the fool politicians who had forced the lenders, under threat of government lawsuits, to trash rational credit standards.
The politicians couldn't very well go after themselves, though; so they went after … let's see, who can we go after? … right, the lenders!
With a bit of easy media manipulation, the politicians who caused the mess come out looking like knights in shining anti-racist armor, while the bankers who'd buckled under political pressure look like sleazy swindlers.
Punish the innocent, reward the guilty. God, I hate politicians.
07 — Payroll tax wrangle. Here's a paragraph from Thursday's New York Post, national news section, quote:
Tempers flared in the House chamber after Republicans blocked a procedural move by Democrats to force a vote on the Senate deal for a two-month extension of the payroll-tax break. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called out to demand the vote. But the pro-forma session was quickly gaveled closed by presiding officer Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.)
Everybody get that? Or did your eyes, like mine, glaze over round about the phrase "procedural move"?
Now, I don't deny that procedural moves in the House of Representatives are the very stuff of politics. I'm willing to believe that the fortunes of the nation, and of my retirement accounts, and of my son's chances of being killed in some war, I'm willing to believe that all of that rests on procedural moves in the House.
It's just that there's no way to make this stuff interesting. I read a passage like that and I'm transported back to the 1996 campaign, with Bob Dole droning on about cloture while thirty million Americans watching him on TV sink into irreversible coma.
Fortunately I have my indefatigable staff of research assistants to decipher these snoozer items for me. The girls have prepared a lively brief, which I have here on my desk somewhere. Let me see … OK, this looks like an executive summary done by one of the girls. Quote:
Dear Diary — I was sitting in the grotto with Jonah this evening, thinking to myself "Isn't nature wonderful!" when suddenly …
Wait a minute, this can't be the right paper. Candy! … Right, thanks. [Candy: "Sorry!"] That's OK, honey. While you're here, just fix me up with the usual, would you please? No ice. Thanks.
OK, here we go. The payroll tax is the federal flat tax that employees pay on earned income, up to a certain annual ceiling. It pays for Social Security and Medicare, at least in theory. Back when I was writing payroll programs in the 1970s, everyone called it "FICA," but we seem to have stopped doing that.
Anyway, until a year ago the tax was a tad more than six percent, the ceiling a tad over a hundred thousand, so nobody paid much more than six thousand dollars.
Well, a year ago Congress lowered the tax two percentage points, from six and change to four and change. It was a temporary change, meant to put more money in workers' pockets and so juice up the economy. Worked a treat, didn't it?
Anyway, the cut expires at midnight on December 31st, and the tax rate jumps back up to six percent again.
So, should the cut be extended? Congresscritters of both parties have all internalized the Lyndon Johnson rule: That increasing taxes in an election year is political insanity.
You might want to argue that restoring the tax rate to what it was prior to a temporary emergency reduction isn't really increasing taxes; but by the time you get through saying that, your congressman has left the room shaking his head in wonder at your political naïvety.
So there's general agreement among the congressfolk that yes, the cut should be extended. Given general public awareness that the nation is living way beyond its means, however, and the need of GOP leaders in Congress to keep those pesky Tea Party freshmen on board, there is also general agreement that tax cuts have to be paid for. How to pay for this one?
The Democrats of course wanted a millionaires' tax, but that wouldn't fly in the House. A bipartisan group cooked up a new tax on mortgage loans; but with the housing market still in the toilet, that was a no-hoper too.
The House worked out a plan for a one-year extension, funded by mostly conservative means — welfare reforms, cuts to Obamacare spending, reduced regulations. They sent the plan to the Senate. The Senate harrumphed and passed the bill, but with the extension reduced from one year to two months.
House Republicans have been stalling a vote on the Senate bill, holding out for the original one-year extension. That's what this week's wrangling in the House has been about: The Democrats tried to force a vote on the Senate bill, Republicans want to avoid one and get the Senate to approve their one-year extension.
Translated into politics, that means the Democrats are saying "Look, we want to keep your tax cut but the Republicans won't let us!" while the Republicans are saying [random noise].
So you kind of knew the GOP was going to lose this one, and lose it they duly did.
Radio Derb's take is that the payroll tax cut was a stupid idea from the start, and the interests of the country would be best served by letting it expire.
I repeat: The payroll tax is supposed to pay for Social Security and Medicare. Both programs are notoriously underfunded. How did it make sense to reduce the taxes that fund them?
A pretty good rule of monetary exchange, both public and private, is that people should know how much things cost, and that the best way to transmit this information to them is through pricing. We should be paying more for Social Security and Medicare, not less.
That is of course a loftily idealistic point of view, guaranteed to raise coarse laughter from the political sophisticates in Congress.
Yeah, keep laughing, guys; and when you've got the entitlement programs fully funded, give me a call, and I'll come and laugh along with you.
08 — UK, PC. A segment or two ago I mentioned the old English spirit of rebellion against Puritanical rigor, and offered thanks that it was on display in Massachusetts.
It doesn't seem to be doing so well back in the Mother Country. In fact, if you want to know where political correctness is headed, just glance across the pond to the land of my birth.
This story concerns John Terry, captain of the English national soccer team, and captain also of Chelsea Football Club, a major-league professional soccer team. Quote from the London Daily Telegraph, quote:
Police officers visited Terry's Surrey home on Wednesday to issue a summons requiring him to attend West London magistrates court to face charges …
Goodness me, what on earth did John Terry do? For those not au courant with life in Shakespeare's island nowadays, let me tell you, an English policeman is not easily roused from his slumbers on the station-house sofa. If you call in a robbery, a burglary, an automobile theft, or a gang of teenage vandals throwing rocks through your windows, nine times out of ten you will be told that no officers are available to deal with your complaint right now, just be sure to file an insurance report.
If you were to call in that an ax murderer is currently dismembering your wife, with appropriate thuds and shrieks in the background, you might get a resigned voice saying all right, a patrol car will stop by shortly — "shortly" here meaning after Constable Plod has finished his afternoon tea and crumpets and worked out that tricky twelve down on the newspaper crossword.
So plainly John Terry has committed some very grave offense to bring some plural number of bobbies to his door. What could that offense be? Multiple homicide? Piracy on the high seas? Arson in Her Majesty's dockyards?
Let's read on. Further quote from the Telegraph, quote:
… to face charges for a "racially aggravated public order offence" under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 during Chelsea's away match against Queens Park Rangers on Oct 23.
Queens Park Rangers, a.k.a. QPR, is another major-league soccer team.
Heavens, that does sound serious. "Racially aggravated." Is there a burning cross in this story somewhere? Or a bombed-out church, perhaps? Was someone lynched?
The actual nature of the offense was too shocking to be reported by the Telegraph, which is a genteel newspaper, so we have to go to the tabloids. London Daily Mail, December 22nd, quote:
Multi-millionaire Terry was accused of calling QPR's Anton Ferdinand an "(expletive) black (expletive)."
The first expletive there starts with "f" and ends with "ing," so we know where we are with that one. The second is printed as just four asterisks.
I don't keep up with U.K. sport, so I know nothing about Terry's victim, this Anton Ferdinand. I have just looked him up on Google Images. Color-wise, I'd put Mr Ferdinand between a sepia and a russet; just about at the median skin color, in fact, of the nine persons shown in a group photograph on the website of the Black Soccer Coaches Committee, affiliated to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
So if they can call themselves black, why can't Mr Terry call Mr Ferdinand black?
Ah, but perhaps the word "black" carries a more pejorative sense over there in the U.K.? Er, no, apparently not: I am now, for example, looking at a different website, a British one, the website for the National Black Police Association, www.nbpa.co.uk. Perhaps one of the police officers sent to John Terry's home to issue that summons was a member of the NBPA.
So this is all a bit of a puzzle. If "black" is not insulting, where is the racial aggravation in Mr Terry's alleged offense? Of the three words quoted by the Daily Mail, the first one is certainly offensive enough, though without any racial implications, and surely common enough on the soccer field.
The third, the one identified only by four asterisks, might I suppose be a racial insult; but coming after "black," that would make a pleonasm — a figure of speech beyond the rhetorical powers of the average soccer player, in my estimation.
The whole business became even more baffling later this week when sports commentator Alan Hansen, live on British TV, was asked about the Terry case. Fumbling around for something to say, Alan Hansen observed that, quote:
There's a lot of coloured players in all the teams, all the major teams, and there's a lot of coloured players that are probably the best in the Premier League …
Howls of outrage arose from all over the sceptered isle. "Coloured"? Oh my God, whatever next!
Twitter was seething with indignation. Soccer star Rohan Ricketts — wait a minute, I need Google Images again … OK, darker than Mr Ferdinand, round about burnt umber on the color chart — Rohan Ricketts tweeted that, quote:
I'm not coloured … He is part of the problem when using that word. We are BLACK Alan!
So … not coloured, black. So it's OK to call you black, Mr Ricketts? So what are the peelers doing delivering a magistrate's summons to John Terry?
This is real confusing. I need some clarification here. I know: I'll call the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, maybe they can help.
09 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Item: A man in South Carolina has died after eating cocaine out of his brother's rear end.
The two brothers, Wayne and Deangelo Mitchell, were arrested on suspicion of possession. They did indeed have drugs on them — hidden in Deangelo's bottom. While the cops were doing paperwork, Deangelo persuaded Wayne to eat the evidence. Wayne did so, and died soon afterwards.
North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt told a TV reporter, quote:
It's sickening. I got upset when I saw the thing. I was pretty shocked on it.
I felt a bit sick reading about it, Chief, I must say. Though I doubt either of us was as nauseated as poor Wayne Mitchell when ordered to chow down on the stash in Deangelo's buttcrack.
Item: The Winter solstice passed over us this week. The point on the horizon at which the Sun rises each morning ceased its progress southward and will henceforth begin to move north, encouraged to do so by various traditional ceremonies — the illumination of trees, the imbibing of egg nog, and perhaps a court appearance by Lindsay Lohan.
According to the Mayans, who paid much closer attention to the motions of the Sun than you or I ever did, this may be the last time our parent star responds favorably to our importunings; so enjoy that egg nog, pal.
Item: Mitt Romney, in an interview with a Boston radio show, said that he — and we must presume he meant the Justice Department under a President Romney — he would deport Barack Obama's uncle, an illegal immigrant from Kenya.
Now hold on there just a minute, Willard: You're telling us you would actually enforce the federal laws on immigration? That's pretty toxic stuff, you know — highly controversial. You might want to back off a little from a topic as hotly contentious as that.
Wait a minute, though: This is Willard talking, and nobody believes anything he says anyway. So that's all right then. Phew!
Item: I'm not sure which side of the War on Christmas this story belongs to.
Greg Martin, owner of a diner in southwest England, put a sign in front of his store. The sign showed a photograph of himself with Santa in an armlock. He's holding a frycook spatula to Santa's throat. Chalked above him on the menu board is the message EAT HERE OR THE OLD B@$?@*D GETS IT! — obviously inspired by that famous National Lampoon cover: "Buy this magazine or we shoot the dog."
That got the coppers out of the station house all right. They piled into a patrol car and headed at high speed for Mr Martin's establishment, driving right past a 90-year-old widow being mugged for her pocketbook.
Once arrived, they issued Mr Martin a stern warning that he had committed a Section 5 offence under the Public Order Act 1986, which forbids Britons to, quote,
display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting within the sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm, or distress,
All right, I'll allow that Mr Martin's display may have fallen short in the spirit-of-the-season department, but I can't see why anyone other than Mrs Claus should have suffered "harassment, alarm, or distress" on viewing it.
I guess you can never be too careful, though. Just a single instance of hurt feelings anywhere, by anyone, could bring the entire structure of civilization crashing to the ground.
I mean, it's not as if the Western world were populated by adults with mature powers of reason and judgment and a sense of humor.
10 — Signoff. That's it for this week, listeners, and indeed for this year. There will be no Radio Derb next week. I've given my entire staff a week off, and I shall be flying with the girls over to Ashgabat to bring in the New Year with our dear friend President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and his charming family. Normal service will be restored in the New Year.
It remains only to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, to thank you for supporting Radio Derb, and to hand you off to our Christmas songbird, the inimitable Gracie Fields.
Take it away, Gracie.
[Music clip: Gracie Fields, "I'm sending a letter to Santa Claus."]