a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

County Council’s retreat loses respect — and Busboys

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th October 2011

Great — the Montgomery County Council has chickened out of voting for a perfectly reasonable resolution saying we’re spending too much on defense — because Lockheed Martin blackmailed an easily cowed group of legislators into shelving the resolution.

As the resolution lays out — that is, laid out — it’s not just appropriate for a county council to express an opinion about this issue, it’s high time:

“4. While military spending has been extraordinary during the past decade, huge cuts have been made at the federal, state, and local levels to domestic spending, including appropriations for Maryland and Montgomery County.
5. The economic and financial situation in the state of Maryland has led to reductions in revenues from the state to Montgomery County. These reductions impact funding for education, environmental programs, health care, safety net services, public safety, and transportation projects.”

Cramped school budgets, fights with the police force over benefits, looming state and local health care and services cutbacks and more: they can all be attributed in no small part to this country’s misplaced budget priorities.

But if you need it, there will be another daily reminder of our county council’s embarrassing retreat — the empty storefront at the former Border’s Books location in Downtown Silver Spring.  That’s because Andy Shallal — owner of the thriving Busboys and Poets bookstore/cafe empire in the DC area — has ruled out expanding to that location (or any other in Montgomery County) because of the County Council’s action. CityPaper’s Lydia DePillis reports:

Having already planted flags in Arlington and Prince George’s counties, Montgomery was a clear next step for Shallal. And indeed, he tells me he’s been looking at the now-closed Borders Books & Music space in Silver Spring, and has been approached by developers to open in Bethesda. But Shallal, whose outlets have lately been sporting banners encouraging passersby to “IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT WAR,” says MoCo has lost its chance. “County residents pay about $2.5 billion in defense spending,” he emails. “Money that is desperately needed for other services.”

Sure: realistically, Busboys and Poets is no economic match for Lockheed Martin, which turns out to be the largest employer in the county.  But Mr. Shallal’s penalty to the county, while perhaps small in the scheme of things, is a concrete example of the trade-offs we’re making every day with our outlandish defense budget and our seemingly endless warfare.  Lockheed was either bluffing or insane: our county — with its still-excellent schools, its services, and above all its work force — either was a good place to work and live, or it wasn’t. Passing this resolution wasn’t going to change that.

With respect, I think Councilmember George Leventhal was mistaken to say the resolution amounted to unwise “federal legislating.” It was no such thing.  It simply urged Congress to make major reductions in the Pentagon budget, and reinvest the savings in state and local needs.

Councilmember Leventhal got it right the first time when he endorsed this bill.  I hope he gets it right again — and soon — to vote for it.

Posted in Post | 2 Comments »

What’s good for GM is good for GM

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st February 2009

Russ Dallen of the Latin American Herald Tribune reports:

General Motors plans to invest $1 billion in Brazil to avoid the kind of problems the U.S. automaker is facing in its home market, said the beleaguered car maker.

According to the president of GM Brazil-Mercosur, Jaime Ardila, the funding will come from the package of financial aid that the manufacturer will receive from the U.S. government and will be used to “complete the renovation of the line of products up to 2012.”

Via Avedon Carol and Susie Madrak. So other taxpayers and I helped bail out GM so it could build more cars in Brazil?

Posted in Post | No Comments »

A chart so simple even McCain and Palin can understand it

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th September 2008

Earmarks in the federal budget
Via Eric Martin (“Obsidian Wings”), who adds:

For a truer sense of the impact on the federal budget that McCain’s bold new earmark cutting plan will have, you would have cut the red slice in the pie chart in half. Barely a blip on the fiscal radar.

Posted in Post | No Comments »

Good for a grin

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th August 2008


# Jonathan Schwarz (“A Tiny Revolution”) — “Almost all political conflict, especially in the US, boils down to a fight between the Sane Billionaires and the Insane Billionaires. It generally follows this template:

INSANE BILLIONAIRES: Let’s kill everyone and take their money!
SANE BILLIONAIRES: I like the way you think. I really do. But if we keep everyone alive, and working for us, we’ll make even more money, in the long term.

Works in China, too.

# — because we don’t just need a president who puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney, we need a president who IS Barney Smith.

# YouTube Comment Snob “is a Firefox extension that filters out undesirable comments from YouTube comment threads. You can choose to have any of the following rules mark a comment for removal: * More than # spelling mistakes: The number of mistakes is customizable, and the extension uses Firefox’s built-in spell checker. * etc. etc. # All capital letters# No capital letters # Excessive punctuation (!!!! ????)…” etcetera etcetera. Patrick Nielsen Hayden asks the right question: “Can we have this for the entire Internet?”

# Take A Load Off Fannie at “CalculatedRisk”: “The story of Fannie Mae, as narrated by The Band.”

# The Guardian: the whole world’s only source for backup Fafblog. It’s true.

HAT TIPS: Aviva Othirtytwo (Barney), Andrew H. (Fannie)

Posted in Post | No Comments »

Book tag: Shock Doctrine, Arsenals of Folly

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th March 2008

Having answered Jim Henley‘s call, Nell Lancaster has graciously tagged me, Gary Farber, and JanInSanFran with the task of supplying text — to wit, the 6th, 7th, and 8th sentences on page 123 — from the book closest to where each of us is sitting. I hear and obey — and tag eRobin, Avedon Carol, Tom, and Paul in turn.

At the time I read the tag, that book was “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” by Naomi Klein. For the designated sentences, the context is the Ford Foundation’s prior support for the “Chicago Boys” and “Berkeley Mafia” economics teams that helped bring about major impoverishment and repression of the lower and middle classes in Chile and Indonesia:

After the left in [Chile and Indonesia] had been obliterated by regimes that Ford had helped shape, it was none other that Ford that funded a new generation of crusading lawyers dedicated to freeing the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners being held by those same regimes.

Given its own highly compromised history, it is hardly surprising that when Ford dived into human rights, it defined the field as narrowly as possible. The foundation strongly favored groups that framed their work as legalistic struggles for the “rule of law,” “transparency,” and “good governance.”

I once threatened to try to write about this excellent book, but by now I’d need to reread it to do it justice. The book enraged many libertarian writers for its well-documented portrayal of Milton Friedman as the intellectual godfather of Pinochet/Argentine style economic warfare — and hence of the repression that went hand in hand with that warfare. Yet Klein’s critique of the Iraq disaster bonanza ought to have rung a bell with many of those same writers, if they got that far.

I actually finished that book a while ago; in case this is supposed to be about the book I’m reading, that one is “Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race,” by Richard Rhodes. The text is from a 1984 address by Jerome Wiesner, arguing that it would take just 50 nuclear weapons to put American or Russian society “out of business,” and 300 to destroy it.

It would take a bigger bomb for Los Angeles or New York. If you are a weapons expert you know you should “pepper ’em down”; you would get a better effect. In any event, it does not take many.

As Joseph Cirincione points out in his review of the book**, the United States and the Soviet Union had a combined 65,000 warheads at the height of the Cold War — and still have 25,000 today.

I actually happened to talk with Cirincione about the book, and mentioned that one thing I thought about it was “what about us?” — by which I meant the Nuclear Freeze movement that I spent a great deal of time in during the 1980s. Rhodes’s book spends a great deal of time focused on Reagan and Gorbachev — their head-to-head negotiations in Geneva and Reykjavik, even a chapter length bio of the Russian leader. But Rhodes barely acknowledges or discusses the mass movement that opposed a U.S. nuclear weapons buildup, or even the congressional donnybrooks over MX missile deployment that were defining moments of the Reagan years. I suppose that would have complicated the scope of the book, but whether it’s intended or not, the omission seems to signal that we didn’t matter.

If so, I would beg to differ, even if I can’t prove a causal connection between the Freeze and eventual successes like the INF and CFE treaties. There was a time when nearly every Congressman or -woman was deeply aware of nuclear weapons and of their constituents’ beliefs that there were too many of them and we didn’t need any more of them. Like the narrator in “Masters of War,” we spoke out of turn, and we won those victories, too — even if we’re still in the shadow of thousands of remaining nuclear weapons.

* Hers was quite unusual and interesting, you should have a look.
** Along with three others, which are more about Pakistani/A.Q. Khan proliferation.

EDIT, 3/5: Final sentence of Klein discussion split into two sentences, ‘if they got that far’ added to 2d. Also, “impoverishment” and “economic warfare” moved to the first spots in prior sentences, ahead of “repression”; I’d summarize much of Klein’s point as being that the order matters, just as the motive matters in any crime.
EDITS, 3/6: 25,000, not 26,000; the other 1,000 are divided among the other nuclear powers. Also, on re-reviewing the index, I found 3 references to the nuclear freeze movement; the effect in the text is that Rhodes “barely acknowledges” rather than “doesn’t acknowledge” it.

TAG WATCH: Tom has probably nailed down the Most Eclectic Response Award: “La vie du pape Saint Gregoire, ou la legende du bon pecheur.” Paul checks in with a little light bedtime reading: Walter Isaacson’s “Einstein: His Life and Universe.”

Posted in Review | No Comments »

Would you like your partisanship steely or fabricated?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th March 2002

Glenn Reynolds professes disinterest, but then writes an extended article pooh-poohing the steel tariffs issue. If he doesn’t care, why bother to write one of the longer posts of the last week or two? Maybe this:

Actually, as I look at the reaction to the steel issue I’d say that a lot of people are piling on Bush extra-hard because this gives them the chance to show their independence after supporting him on the war more than they’re generally comfortable supporting a President, and perhaps especially a Republican one.

Beneath the jibe, Reynolds is right about something here. I, for one, don’t support the President per se, but the war effort and the United States of America. And I don’t go around looking for “chances to show my independence,” that’s a given.

While Nick Denton has combatively stressed the steel issue, I stressed the textile issue because it undercut the war effort by pulling the rug out from under Pakistan (so to speak), when ending textile tariffs could be justified both by elementary economics and by expedient, immediate war effort considerations. Al Qaeda reinforcements from Pakistan during the Operation Anaconda fight demonstrate that these considerations remain important.

Possibly more important, the Bush administration may have made promises to Pakistan, and then broken them. According to Foer, in the New Republic article I cited below:

…Commerce Under Secretary Grant Aldonas told Musharraf’s deputies that the Bush administration would neither push Congress to cut tariffs nor raise quotas for vital Pakistani exports like cotton trousers. Instead, the administration’s most substantive gesture was [an offer worth about] $140 million–one-tenth of the value of Musharraf’s initial request. Not surprisingly, Pakistani negotiators considered it an insult. “The [Pakistanis] said that they had nothing further to discuss. They accused Aldonas of breaking promises,” says one source familiar with the proceedings. “It got quite personal and ugly.”

Coupled with the all-but-Clintonian “depends what the meaning of arms reduction is” ploy in the ballyhooed Crawford, Texas Bush-Putin summit, it’s beginning to look like the Bush administration can’t be relied on to keep its word in foreign policy. I’d be appalled if promises made to even North Korea or Iraq were broken; it’s worse yet when it happens to foreign allies (even if they’re “just” Russia or Pakistan).

This undercuts the credibility of my nation, and that’s one more reason I object, not to reassure myself I haven’t gone all “Bushy.” It’s also a worrisome sign that Bush and his advisors may think that nothing can stop them these days, not even their own principles, not even their own word. Depending on the meaning of “their word,” or course.

The tariffs issue goes beyond the often-boring issue of tariffs themselves; it speaks to the credibility of a President who’s succeeded until now in projecting an “anti-Clinton” image of a straight-shootin’, plain-talkin’ fella. Here’s Bush in his own words not even a year ago:

…And there’s another mistake we won’t repeat — the mistake of putting artificial barriers in the way of world trade. When economy slows down, protectionist pressures tend to develop. We’ve seen this happen before, and it could happen again. So I want to say this as clearly as I can: Trade spurs innovation; trade creates jobs; trade will bring prosperity.

If our trading partners trade unfairly, they’ll hear from us. This administration will always speak for American interests. But free and open trade is in our national interest. (Applause.) The world will know this, that I strongly, and my administration strongly supports free trade. Twenty years ago, hundreds of millions of human beings were walled off from the global economy by the policies of their own governments.

And those walls are coming down. And people in Mexico and the Americas and Asia and Africa and Eastern and Central Europe are being set free to join the world, to understand the promise of market-oriented systems. It’s a big change, and change isn’t always easy. But trade lifts lives and trade furthers political freedom around the world. And it will build the wealth of our nation.

I believe this. I believe I must speak straight with the American people. …

There is a real question here of which principles govern the Bush administration as its approval ratings soar in to the stratosphere (in fact, especially when they soar in to the stratosphere). To take up my joky headline: if anyone is showing “steely” partisanship, I’d say it’s the Bush administration, its apologists on this issue, and those who “fabricate” charges of narrow partisanship against Democrats or anti-globalizers.


Sidebar: For an interesting article corroborating Foer’s article, and detailing who else Bush, Zoellick, et al are willing to sell out for textiles (pharmaceutical industry intellectual property concerns), see this New York Times article by Lael Brainard, republished on the Brookings Institute site. Apparently, Bush’s textile protectionism comes not just at the expense of far-off Pakistanis and unorganized American consumers — and really, no one’s interested in that — but also (via Doha Trade Summit choices) at the direct expense of the pharmaceutical industry, surely more of a 21st century asset than textiles are. (Full disclosure: registered Democrat, Pfizer shareholder).


Postscript: I don’t care whether this opinion is “liberal” or not; folks like Dave Bonior probably think it’s not, folks like Nick Denton think it is. I consider myself “often liberal,” but generally take a kind of “dim sum” approach to politics and issues: a little of this, a little of that. More on that some other time. I do care about writing well, so I’ll keep trying to improve.

Posted in Post | No Comments »