Starve the Pentagon; Feed the Workers

Lansdowne, Pa.

The calls, from Christopher Hayes and Barney Frank, to “Cut the Military Budget” [March 2] point out how weapons contracts are being rebranded as jobs programs to fight military spending cuts. What Hayes and Frank miss, however, is the importance of these jobs to American high-tech workers. Most defense jobs require security clearances, available only to US citizens. Microsoft, IBM and others are free to outsource software development to other countries or to bring engineers here on H-1B visas. But military contractors like Lockheed Martin, L-3 and General Dynamics are among the dwindling number of employers who offer US engineers job stability.

That’s why weapons like the F-22 Raptor jet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Ballistic Missile Defense, spread out through byzantine subcontracts to as many Congressional districts as possible, continue to enjoy bipartisan support. For example, even though New Jersey’s 3rd District elected its first Democrat in years last November, cutting military spending will be a tough sell for the new incumbent, given that the district’s largest employer is Lockheed Martin.

Engineers at defense companies might be able to apply their skills to alternative energy, mass transit or electric cars rather than fighter jets and missiles, but they’re going to need retraining as well as the job stability currently provided by their security clearances. A federal agency for advanced research contracts, similar to DoD’s DARPA, could help. Without such a transition plan, efforts to cut the military budget will face fierce opposition, not just from the Pentagon but from the middle-class communities that depend on these US-only stimulus programs.

ROBERT McMAHON



Looted & Booted

Bronx, N.Y.

I’ve been a subscriber since 1937 because The Nation almost always illustrates my positions and augments my knowledge. This note is to congratulate whoever chose the photograph of Pete Peterson for the cover of the March 2 issue. The cliché is resoundingly true: a picture is better than a thousand words.

BURTON SHAPIRO


Fresno, Calif.

I read “The Man Who Wants to Loot Social Security” [March 2] with personal interest. Pete Peterson’s Blackstone Group recently bought the company I have worked for as a wage slave for nearly sixteen years. His minions have decided to slash as many full-time positions as possible to eliminate benefits. Vacations and sick pay will be terminated along with the jobs. My job is history. This man, one of the wealthiest people in the world, will benefit because my 240 hours of sick pay will be eliminated without compensation.

The good news is that I recently turned 62. I have filed for early Social Security benefits. Since Peterson is 82, I can only hope he expires before he also manages to take my earned Social Security away from me.

BERL JAY HUBBELL



‘End-Users’ Embrace New Media

Eugene, Ore.

Eric Alterman’s March 2 “Liberal Media” column is a clear and fully scoped discussion of the precipitous decline of daily newspapers. It includes important solutions, but it also accepts a key assumption that is not so sound: “To ad buyers the worth of an Internet reader is barely 10 percent of that of a print customer.” That’s true now, but we’re not stuck here forever.

Media end-users–readers–are moving to new media much faster than advertisers. The fear of change on the part of ad buyers (enabled by the inertia of most print publishers) has the media world in a state of severe distortion: advertisers are overpaying for dwindling print audiences and underpaying for burgeoning online audiences. And that is radically intensified by the economic crisis.

Business as usual leaves ad buyers spending the bulk of their money in all the wrong places–where their readers used to be. That will change. Eventually. Once advertisers cross the technology chasm, marketing dollars will shift. Online will see two- to fivefold increases. Print will experience an even greater lurch, requiring new models to survive.

KEVIN MATTHEWS



Kafkaesque

Egg Harbor, Wisc.

Re Alexander Provan’s “An Alienation Artist” [March 2]: sadly, to most people Franz Kafka is either Gregor Samsa or Joseph K, not Mr. Everyman who in his sensitive, bewildered fashion is actually Ulysses struggling through modern times, trying to make some headway and sense of it all. The wonderful “An Imperial Message” tells us the whole tale: when it comes to understanding, we never even get beyond the courtyard. Kafka has given us back our world in story after story. From short, short pieces like “A Common Confusion” and “Up in the Gallery” to never-ending masterpieces like The Trial, Amerika and The Castle, this artist is the Homer of our crowded today. Anyone who has missed this genius should be prepared to laugh out loud at the rich humor, nod at the sagacity and marvel at the writing. Try “The Bucket Rider,” “The Fratricide” and “An Old Manuscript.”

JOHN F. WILSON



Bye-Bye, Governors

Lincoln City, Ore.

John Nichols, in “Senate Selection Scam” [Feb. 16], says that governors should have no right to fill US Senate vacancies. He’s right, but Russ Feingold’s plan for a constitutional amendment is not the best way to solve this problem. In 1986 Oregon voters approved a ballot measure proposed by the legislature that mandated Senate vacancies be filled by special election, not gubernatorial appointment. In 1996, when Bob Packwood resigned from the Senate, a special primary and general election were held, and Ron Wyden was elected to take his place. Wisconsin, Alaska and Massachusetts have similar laws.

There is nothing wrong with using a constitutional amendment to right a wrong (giving 18-year-olds subject to the draft in 1972 the right to vote was a good amendment). But the bar must be set high. Senator Feingold’s proposal does not meet the test. It is usually better to use the state legislative process to change policy. It is time-consuming and difficult to change things state by state, but it is worth the time. Using states as laboratories for democracy has been around for a long time, and it should stay that way.

LARRY ARMSTRONG



Clarifications & Pesky Decimals–II

In Mark Hertsgaard’s March 16 “A Global Green Deal,” the March 2 civil disobedience in Washington was spearheaded by Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Ruckus Society and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. In addition, Texas has potentially 45,000 megawatts of wind power, not forty-five megawatts.

In “Noted” (Feb. 23) Peter Akinola is not “an Episcopalian Archbishop”; he is Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.