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.

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Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th May 2008

  • A stalled U.S. peace movement? Antiwar activity since 2001 (janinsanfran, “Happening Here”) — This is the fifth and last post of a series Jan wrote to gather her thoughts for a history workshop, and the whole series is worth your while. Jan concludes:

    A more effective peace movement needs to be offering a vision of a plausible, sustainable global community that doesn’t hinge on U.S. use of force to maintain empire. Elements of that vision clearly need to include challenges related to technology, climate change, and how to rein in cancerous capitalism. We really haven’t known how to put out such a vision yet.

    That’s not surprising — it is hard and perhaps, also, the struggle against empire may not have changed us enough so that we could see it. But the group(s) that find elements of that vision will discover that millions are already with them, looking for something similar, ready to elaborate something as yet unknown. They just don’t currently identify with the peace movement.

  • The Cynic and Senator Obama (Charles Pierce, Esquire) — This is one of the best political essays I’ve read in a long time. Self-described cynic Pierce considers Obama’s oratory and politics, and finds them serviceable but not entirely satisfying:

    There is one point in the stump speech, however, that catches the cynic up short every time. It comes near to the end, when Obama talks about cynics. Obama says that cynics believe they are smarter than everyone else. The cynic thinks he’s wrong. The cynic doesn’t think he’s wiser or more clever or more politically attuned than anyone else. It’s just that he fears that, every morning, he’ll discover that his country has done something to deface itself further, that something else he thought solid will tremble and quake and fall to ruin, that his fellow citizens will sell more of their birthright for some silver that they can forge into shackles. He has come to believe that the worst thing a citizen of the United States of America can believe is that his country will not do something simply because it’s wrong. It would be a mistake for anyone — but especially for a presidential candidate — to believe that the cynic thinks himself wise or safe or liberated. In 2008, the cynic is more modest. He considers himself merely adequate to the times.

    I could go on quoting this piece at length, but I’ll make do with two quotes — one that made me nod my head as the main thing I hold against Obama (link added):

    In 2007, when asked about the possibility — just the possibility — of impeaching George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney, Obama scoffed at the idea, not entirely because it was constitutionally unsound but also because it was impolite and a nuisance and might make many people angry at one another, and he was, after all, running to help save us from ourselves.“We would, once again, rather than attending to the people’s business, be engaged in a tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, nonstop circus.”

    He was offering a guilty country a nolo plea. Himself. Absolution without confession.

    The cynic declined the deal. There were not enough people in handcuffs yet.

    And one that made me laugh:

    “I look forward as president to going before the world community and saying, ‘America is back. We’re ready to lead,’ “ Obama says on the radio, the static crackling and popping and the transmission fading, and it takes a moment for the cynic to wonder whether or not the world wants America to lead. Maybe the world wants America to sit down and shut up for a while.

  • Race to the Bottom, (Betsy Reed, “The Nation”) — Reed stipulates that misogynistic attacks on Hillary Clinton have happened and are deplorable, but thinks declaring “sexism the greater scourge” than racism is not helpful. She continues:

    Yet what is most troubling–and what has the most serious implications for the feminist movement–is that the Clinton campaign has used her rival’s race against him. In the name of demonstrating her superior “electability,” she and her surrogates have invoked the racist and sexist playbook of the right–in which swaggering macho cowboys are entrusted to defend the country–seeking to define Obama as too black, too foreign, too different to be President at a moment of high anxiety about national security.

  • Women and the Invisible Fist (Charles Johnson, Rad Geek People’s Daily) — Libertarians (and others) grant and even assume the possibility of spontaneous order; but if so, must they not also grant the possibility of spontaneous repression? An interesting essay by libertarian Charles Johnson argues yes, with a close examination of writings by feminist theorist Susan Brownmiller. The latter coined the ugly but compelling “Myrmidon theory” of rape — that men as a class or gender benefit from the transgressions of rapists.* Roughly speaking, the thinking is that the “good” men often identify themselves as protectors, women often agree, and society as a whole shapes itself around the ever-present threat. Johnson:

    But if widely distributed forms of intelligence, knowledge, virtue, or prudence can add up, through many individual self-interested actions, into an benign undesigned order, then there’s no reason why widely distributed forms of stupidity, ignorance, prejudice, vice, or folly might not add up, through many individual self-interested actions, into an unintended but malign undesigned order. Moreover, if you consider that spontaneous orders can emerge as unintended consequences of certain widespread forms of violence, then it ought to be especially clear that not all undesigned orders can be considered benign from a libertarian point of view.

    Via Jim Henley, who seems lately to be about metamorphosing your father’s (and/or mother’s) libertarianism into something more honest, multifaceted, and interesting. See also in this respect Henley’s Art of the Possible post, and the site as a whole: “Liberals and libertarians on common ground… and otherwise.” Henley says that the challenge is to “correct spontaneous malign orders without the tool of state violence.” I’m not sure that circle can be squared — some countervailing force is needed against spontaneous malign orders, and that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement. But I’m interested that libertarians are thinking about the challenge.

  • “Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government,” Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, April 30, 2008 — From Senator Russ Feingold’s opening statement:

    “More than any other Administration in recent history, this Administration has a penchant for secrecy. To an unprecedented degree, it has invoked executive privilege to thwart congressional oversight and the state secrets privilege to shut down lawsuits. It has relied increasingly on secret evidence and closed tribunals, not only in Guantanamo but here in the United States. And it has initiated secret programs involving surveillance, detention, and interrogation, some of the details of which remain unavailable today, even to Congress.

    “These examples are the topic of much discussion and concern, and appropriately so. But there is a particularly sinister trend that has gone relatively unnoticed – the increasing prevalence in our country of secret law.

    Feingold went on to list examples like the secret Yoo memoranda on torture and (as we now know) on warrantless surveillance. Testimony by Federation of American Scientists secrecy expert Steven Aftergood, former Clinton OLC lawyer Dawn Johnsen, and University of Minnesota law professor Heidi Kitrosser, among others, delineate the problem and suggest some legislative solutions, or at least balances. Kitrosser:

    …as the experience with the surveillance and torture programs demonstrate, the oversight system too often cracks under the weight of executive branch disregard and legislative acquiescence in the same. Such disregard and acquiescence is facilitated in part by the same arguments used to justify the circumvention of substantive statutory directives. That is, the executive branch often simply asserts that statutorily required disclosures or requested disclosures would prove too dangerous, and these assertions too often are met with acquiescence.


    Given the Bush Administration’s propensity to claim that it is simply engaging in statutory interpretation when it in effect is claiming the authority to disregard a statute, Congress should amend the current notification requirement to extend beyond cases in which the executive branch acknowledges iti is refusing to comply with a statute. Presidents should explain publicly not only when they determine a statute is unconstitutional and need not be enforced, but also whenever they purport to rely upon the constitutional avoidance canon to interpret a statute.

    (“Constitutional avoidance” is when a statute admitting of an unconstitutional interpretation is instead is interpreted in such a way that the result is constitutional.) Administration spokesbot Bradford Berenson had his say as well; find it yourself. Via Marty Lederman (“Balkinization”).

* The term “Myrmidon” is from the Iliad, where Myrmidons were Achilles’ henchmen soldiers, who did his bidding: “Loyal and unquestioning, the Myrmidons served their master well, functioning in anonymity as effective agents of terror.”

UPDATE, 6/2: “Rad Geek” elaborates on his points in a lengthy and worthwhile comment here. Also, reading between the lines of Henley’s link to this post, I wonder if I gave offense; that was not my intent. Maybe what’s metamorphosing are my own views, not libertarian thinking. I meant that I see Henley as having his own considerable impact on reshaping libertarian thinking (and/or promoting understanding of it) for the better. Glenn Greenwald is another example. Thanks also to Avedon Carol for her nice link to this post.
UPDATE, 6/10: “Rad Geek” comments on our discussion here at his own blog: “10,000 ways to lose your freedom.”

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Under attack

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th September 2001

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PEACE MOVEMENT, by Charles Deemer, published in Willamette Week Online: Long-time peace movement adherent says goodbye for now: “…Over the years, however, I’ve expressed the view that, if the U.S. were under attack, I would support a military response. And I believe that is the case now, which is why I am leaving your ranks…”

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