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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
[Footsteps … doors opening and closing … more footsteps … pause …]
Er, have you got the number there, Brandy? … Thanks. Yes, this is my box here …
Yep, that's it …
Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I am down here deep beneath the fine city of Zürich, in the vaults of Sitzbein und Ellenbogen, my European bankers. The services of these fine gentlemen were recommended to me by my good friend President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan, who has relied on their probity and discretion for many years.
With tax season coming up, it is so important for those of us in the top one percent to know that our hard-earned assets are in secure safe-keeping ready for when the notice arrives from the IRS. So here I am with one of my trusty research assistants, making a modest deposit of bearer bonds and gold bullion.
Pass me the flashlight, would you, my dear … Yes, everything seems to be in order here, and there go a few more dollars to keep the wolf from the door.
I do try to set a good example of thrift to my listeners. Thrift and frugality, fine old American virtues, especially necessary nowadays, in our straitened national circumstances.
And Americans are rising to the occasion: I see more and more of my fellow-countrymen down here lately.
[Sound of high heels approaching.]
Who's this? … Oh, hi, Callista.
[High heels retreating.]
That reminds me, Brandy: I've been meaning to ask. How much tax do you pay? As a percentage of your income, I mean?
[Brandy: "I dunno, around twenty percent."]
Twenty percent? Good grief! I didn't realize anyone paid that much. Soon as we get upstairs we'll go and see Herr Sitzbein and open an account here for you. Twenty percent? Scandalous!
02 — Newt vs. Mitt. Yes, this was the week Mitt Romney released his tax returns. Turns out he's seriously rich. Who knew?
Mitt's income runs around 21 or 22 million a year, on which he pays about 3 million in taxes.
He also gives a lot to charity — seven million in the last two years, of which half went to his church.
That's eight percent of Mitt's income going to his church — proportionally way more than Barack Obama gave to his church in 2007. That was a meager 27 thousand out of a declared income of 4.2 million — 0.6 percent of Obama's income.
Jeremiah Wright — oops, I beg his pardon: the Reverend Dr Jeremiah Wright, Jr. — must feel he got shafted. You don't remember who Jeremiah Wright was? That's OK, you're not supposed to.
Back to Mitt. It turns out he had a Swiss bank account up until 2010, when his accountant closed it on the grounds that, quote, "it just wasn't worth it." That excited the indignation of Mitt's rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich. Newt gave vent to his indignation while pooh-poohing some remarks Mitt passed on the subject of illegal immigration.
Mitt has just discovered the attrition strategy, which we immigration restrictionists have been trying to promote for a couple of decades now. The idea is that instead of rounding up illegals, packing them into buses, and driving them back to the border — a strategy which, other considerations aside, would involve a tremendous waste of good gasoline — we just make it really hard for illegals to get paid work. Then they self-deport.
Newt, who never met an illegal he didn't think should be given a Social Security Card, a place in a public college, free housing and health care, and a gold-plated Sedan de Ville, Newt was outraged by this attrition idea.
Quote from Newt, speaking to the Spanish-language station Univision this Wednesday, quote:
I think you have to live in worlds of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality.
The theme Newt is pushing there is that Mitt Romney belongs to the idle rich, what the socialists of my youth used to call "dividend-drawers," sitting around in the yacht basin sipping Veuve Cliquot while their undeserved wealth quietly, effortlessly accumulates.
Let me take a look at that theme.
03 — Getting rich, right ways and wrong ways. So far as the morality of getting rich is concerned, I guess we all have our own rankings.
At the top of my rankings are citizens who get rich by figuring out how to manufacture some product better and cheaper than before, or by honestly, reliably providing some useful service to their fellow-citizens — and yes, I'd include entertainment services, movie stars and athletes. Let's call this Rank One.
Next, Rank Two, would be people like Mitt Romney, who get rich by figuring out how to allocate capital to firms that are more likely to use it wisely and well, from firms that are less likely to do so.
Both these ranks consist of people who benefit us all, and deserve to get rich from having done so.
Below those top two ranks, in Rank Three I'd put people who inherit their wealth. There's nothing wrong with it, and it's good for society to have a leisure class of people who don't have to worry about making a living, who can devote their time to charitable works, support of culture, and independent thinking.
Not all of them do those things, to be sure; but enough of them do — especially in the U.S.A., where they feel they are expected to — to make inherited wealth a net positive for society.
At the bottom of that category, or in a category of its own just below it, Rank 3A, are lottery winners. You can think of this level as the moral zero of my scale. Above it are moral positives — those rankings I've been mentioning. Below it are moral negatives, styles of getting rich that should be deplored.
The first of these negative categories, Rank Four, is political entrepreneurs. You may remember that political scientist Burton Folsom distinguished between economic entrepreneurs — you build a better mousetrap — and political entrepreneurs — you make friends with powerful politicians and persuade them to give you the mousetrap monopoly.
Down below them — hey, at least they're making mousetraps — down below them at Rank Five are people who get rich from politics alone, without producing any non-political goods or services.
In a healthy society, politicians should leave office poorer than they came in, as was true of most of our Presidents, and most other politicians in the Anglosphere, up to John F. Kennedy.
There is nothing in the phrase "public service" to indicate that you should get rich from it. Politicians like Bill Clinton — who, if he lives another couple of decades, will likely become our first billionaire ex-President — are morally deplorable, in my opinion.
If you won't take it from me, take it from my colleague Mark Steyn, writing in the December 31 paper issue of National Review, page 28, column two, paragraph two, quote:
Perhaps the most repellent feature of the political class that has served America so disastrously in recent decades is its shameless venality in parlaying "public service" into a guarantee of an eternal snout at the trough.
Tell it, brother.
Down at Rank Six even below gold-digging politicians, though with a certain amount of overlap, are the criminal classes.
Now, where do we put Newt in these rankings? It's not an easy call. The temptation for us Newtophobes is to put him at Rank Five, people who get rich just from being, or from having been, in politics.
That's not really fair to Newt, though. He's an energetic guy, has written several books, and has done a fair amount of commenting and lecturing. Hey, just like me! — so I guess I'm not in a position to call Newt some kind of a parasite.
There's no doubt, though, that while pursuing those healthier enterprises, Newt has simultaneously had his snout firmly in the Washington trough this past 13 years. That $1.6 million he got from Freddie Mac is shameful, pure influence-peddling, like the $300 thousand Michelle Obama was paid by University of Chicago Hospitals for a position they didn't even bother to refill after Michelle went to Washington.
There's way too much of this big-money influence-peddling in our country. It corrupts the whole political process. Newt's health-care lobby may come under the same heading; it's hard to get a grip on it.
So I'm putting Mitt Romney up in Rank Two, and for maximum fairness, I'll have Newt Gingrich straddling Rank One and Rank Five, average Rank Three. Advantage Romney.
04 — Lunar Newt. I get a steady flow of emails from listeners asking plaintively, and sometimes angrily, what I have against Newt Gingrich.
That's real easy. I can do it in one sentence: I'm a small-government guy while Newt's a big-government guy.
Even when he's trying to sound conservative, if you just peek behind his words, you see a new bureaucracy, a new class of clients of the federal government, and a huge new spending program.
We got an illustration of that this week in Florida, where Newt's campaigning for the primary there next week. You think Florida, of course you think of Cape Canaveral, where those big fat rockets were launched from, propelled by great gouts of hot gas. Naturally enough, Newt wanted to be there among the rocket people. He gave them a speech that had them on their feet and cheering.
[Clip: Newt, "By the end of my second term …]
That'll show the Chinese! said Newt. Well, yes: except that we're going to have to borrow scads more money from the Chinese to accomplish Newt's audacious goal. How much more? Let's do a back-of-the-envelope.
The cost of the Apollo program, which put twelve men on the Moon for a few days each, was 170 billion in 2005 dollars, according to NASA. Allowing for seven years' worth of inflation, let's round to $200 billion, say $16 billion per astronaut.
Newt's plan calls for a moon colony of 13,000, so we're looking at a price tag of $200 trillion or so.
That's very rough and ready, of course. There would be economies of scale. On the other hand, there'd be huge things to be done — building living quarters, supplying colony-scale food and air, and so on — that Apollo didn't have to think about.
Still, let's be optimistic and suppose the project could come in at 100 trillion dollars, say eight billion per colonist.
If anyone wants to go off and tame an inhospitable wilderness, what would be wrong with Antarctica? Victory Adventure Expeditions will get you there and back for five thousand dollars. If there were any point to having a city-sized colony in Antarctica, I should think it could be done for less than a million per colonist — one eight-thousandth the cost of a moon base.
But then, of course, while there is no point whatsoever in us going off and colonizing Antarctica, having a permanent colony on the Moon would be terrifically worthwhile. Why, it would [crickets] … and it would also [crickets]. That's not even to mention [crickets] …
05 — Military cuts. Just to return for a moment to Newt's proposals on illegal immigration …
I have a young man in my household who's nuts about the military. The way he has it planned, he'll be going straight from his high school graduation ceremony to the local recruiting office.
I think that me and his Mom have got into his head that he needs a Plan B: that he might have some condition he doesn't know about that makes him ineligible to serve, or that he might not be able to hack the training and wash out.
He listens to us dutifully, then goes back to his room and reads his Army book for the hundred thousandth time. That's the Beaux Arts edition, sponsored by the Army Historical Foundation. There's a whole series of those books, one for each service arm, and they are beautifully produced, just the things for a kid with a service career in mind.
Well, now here's a new reason to worry: When the lad graduates a year and a half from now, there may not be any recruiting going on. The Pentagon has announced a plan to cut Army strength by 13 percent between now and 2017. The Marines are to be cut by ten percent.
Well, of course there will be some recruiting going on; but as numbers drop, it'll be getting a lot more competitive.
This puts me in a bind, commentary-wise. I've been grumbling here on Radio Derb for years about the pointlessness of our maintaining 28,000 troops in South Korea, ten thousand in Italy, and so on. What is it in Japan? Wait a minute … 36,000. In Japan. To guard against a resurgence of Japanese militarism. [Laugh.] This is a colossal waste of our nation's resources.
But then, on the other hand, I want my son to follow his star. Pentagon cuts will make it harder for him to do so.
Newt Gingrich's proposal to give citizenship to illegals who enlist in the U.S. armed forces will make matters even worse. Here's an American kid, a citizen and the child of citizens, who wants to join the military. And Newt's Pentagon will say:
Sorry, kid, we'd like to take you, but see, José here gets preference. Sure, he shouldn't even be in the country. His parents jumped the border when he was ten and he's been living here illegally ever since. But Newt says we've got to take him, so you're out of luck, I'm afraid.
I'm all for treating people humanely and considerately, whatever they or their parents have done. Let me ask a question, though. Is there any sphere of life in our country where being a U.S. citizen puts you at an advantage over non-citizens? Is there any sphere of life in which it does not put you at a dis-advantage?
06 — Gangs of Long Island. All politics is local, they say, so here's a titbit from my own local rag, Long Island Newsday. It is in fact the cover story on the January 25th issue of the paper. Headline: "Suffolk's War on Gangs — We Will Win."
Suffolk is the county I live in on Long Island. We have a serious gang problem. The Newsday story concerns a new law enforcement strategy for dealing with the gangs.
The story lists the gangs we are plagued with.
Most of these gangs have their U.S. origins back in the 1960s and '70s, though the 18 Street can be traced back to the 1920s in California. So these gangs are not transient phenomena, just some passing stage in the assimilation of immigrants or the integration of formerly marginalized groups. They are a permanent feature of the landscape, and four of the six are Hispanic, their numbers constantly being swollen with new members coming up through our southern border, legally and illegally.
On Long Island they are a phenomenon of the past quarter-century, since the Reagan immigration amnesty. If that amnesty had been followed by a proper well-guarded border, as we were promised by Congress, the problem would be far smaller and more manageable than it is.
As things stand, we are increasingly in a state of siege. In Huntington Station, less than a mile from my home, a Hispanic gang murdered three young men last November. A kid's been murdered in a schoolyard for his cell phone. A random commuter was stabbed to death walking home as a gang initiation rite. This is what we're struggling with.
Will someone please explain to me again the benefits of open borders?
07 — Haiti still a ruin. It's been two years and a couple of weeks since the great earthquake in Haiti that killed 300 thousand people and left a million homeless. So how's Haiti doing?
Not well, according to a report in the London Daily Mail, January 26. Sample quote:
The international community claimed to have given ten billion dollars to heal Haiti's wounds, while donations poured in to charities. Earlier this month, on the quake's second anniversary, aid agencies pumped out press releases proclaiming their successes. Add up all the people they claim to have helped and the number exceeds the population of Haiti. The reality is rather different.
It sure is different. Only 4,800 houses have been built since the quake, average 6½ per day. More than half a million people still live in squalid camps plagued with violence, rape, and epidemics. The Daily Mail report on those camps turns your stomach.
It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, though, and the Haiti catastrophe has blown lots of good, mostly in the direction of the international aid rackets and U.N. busybodies who moved in to the rubble calling out: "We're from the international community and we're here to help!"
Quote from the Daily Mail report, quote:
One car dealer sold more than 250 Toyota Land Cruisers a month at 60,000 dollars each. Said one Irish aid worker: "You see traffic jams at Friday lunchtime of all the white NGO and UN four-wheel drives heading off early to the beaches for the weekend. It makes me sick."
"NGO" stands for "Non-Governmental Organization," a somewhat deceptive descriptor which covers everything from genuine charities to outfits like Médecins Sans Frontières, which gets half its income from, guess where? — yep, from governments. Haiti was a playground for these folk long before the earthquake. Another quote from the Mail, quote:
In the past 25 years alone Haiti has endured nine presidents, two coups and one invasion. It has also received astounding amounts of aid: in the half century before the quake, Haiti was handed four times as much per capita as Europeans received under the post-war Marshall plan. There were more charities in Haiti — an estimated 12,000 — on the ground per head of population than any other place on earth. Over the same period incomes collapsed by more than one-third in a nation nicknamed "The Republic of NGOs."
You don't say. Perhaps it's time to try a little benign neglect with Haiti.
By way of contrast, Google Street View has been touring the places devastated in Japan by the earthquake and tsunami of last March. Quote from a December report on this project in the Daily Telegraph, quote:
Houses have turned into building sites as the clean-up continues. Some sites remain uncleared and show clear signs of the damage from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
You can see before-and-after pictures at Google Maps, or here, or just do a Google search on "Japan tsunami clean-up."
I guess one moral of this story is: Blessed are they who have never endured 25 years of help from the international community.
Another moral might be that Haiti is populated by Haitians, while Japan is populated by Japanese, so that …
Hold on a minute, the producer's saying something into my earpiece … Say what? Say what? Really? MSNBC has really let Pat Buchanan go? Wow. Thanks.
OK, next segment. Quick.
08 — Miscellany. The next segment, ladies and gents, is our miscellany of brief items.
Item: Yes, it's now official: Pat has been dumped from MSNBC.
Apparently Pat's offense was to observe that the social and political culture of the U.S.A. is an offshoot of European Christian culture, and that if the people of the U.S.A. cease to be majority European and Christian, our social and political culture will not survive.
That doesn't strike me as a preposterous assertion, but apparently it's not fit to be aired on MSNBC.
As a private company MSNBC can of course hire or fire as it pleases, and it would be nice to think that Pat will find a home on some other network. I'm not going to be holding my breath on that, though. For views like Pat's — views held by wellnigh all Americans from the Founding Fathers down to the 1960s — there is no tolerance in the mass media, only degrees of intolerance.
What's happened to Pat looks to me like another narrowing of the scope of our public conversation, a narrowing that's been going on for fifteen years or so, as I once documented in an NRO column. The circle of things that can be said in public is shrinking; the zone of things that may not be said is steadily expanding.
If you think that's a good thing you're no friend of liberty, of truth, or of free inquiry and civilized debate.
Item: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has joined the ranks of those mega-rich people grumbling that they don't pay enough tax. Quote from him: [Clip: Gates, "Right now I don't feel like people like myself are paying as much as we should."]
Yo Bill, wassa matter? Can't find your checkbook? Pen doesn't work?
Item: A company in Australia that makes nutty snacks has won the right to name itself Nuckin Futs.
The relevant authorities of that country had ruled that the name was offensive, and therefore ineligible for commercial registration under section 42 of the Trade Marks Act. The firm appealed and won their appeal. So now if you find yourself Down Under you can enjoy a tasty pack of Nuckin Futs.
Some will say that this is a further step down in the decline of Western Civilization. Possibly so; but I must say, I have never been able to restrain a smirk when I hear the expression "Down Under."
I mean, what about some Australian pop singer or movie actor trying to break into American celebrity circles. What does his agent say by way of promotion: that he's very big Down Under? … Let's just leave this topic, shall we?
Item: Oh, I dunno, scraping the barrel here.
A government minister in India is in trouble because at a public meeting he was observed having his shoelaces tied by a kneeling young man. Quote:
I admit it was my mistake and I am sorry for it. I swear that from now onwards, I will not wear any shoes with laces.
Say what you like about our politicians, I bet Mitt Romney ties his own shoelaces. Newt Gingrich, I don't know about. Barney Frank … well, let's not go there.
What else … Oh, an elephant at the Amsterdam Zoo has been fitted with contact lenses. There's an Obamacare joke there somewhere, but I'll leave you to figure it out for yourselves.
09 — Signoff. And there you have it, good people. It's midday on Friday, Jonah will have the heaters on in the jacuzzis upstairs ready for tonight's party, and I'll be out of here just as soon as Candy's through tying my shoelaces. That's right, Honey, the long end goes round and under …
To see us out, here's a little Cold War gem from fifty years ago, sent to me by a fan who'd just been reading my tremendous best-seller We Are Doomed. Oh, how I miss the Cold War! Things were so simple then.
Anyway, this is the Kingston Trio with "Merry Minuet."
More from Radio Derb next week. Take it away Dave, Bob, and Nick.>
[Music clip: The Kingston Trio, "Merry Minuet."]