Tag: Wheaton

The Best Chicken EVER!

El Pollo Rico is back!!! Let the rejoicing commence!

I just ate the best chicken one can buy in the Washington DC metro area. After a weekend of excellent food, this was perhaps the best thing I ate (with the possible exception of my pumpkin pies, those were quite nice and I do love pumpkin pie). If it weren’t raining, I’d consider shouting from the rooftop.

El Pollo Rico makes rotisserie chicken–that’s it–and its the best around. It was a special type of restaurant in its previous incarnation, a hole in the wall in a strip of otherwise forgettable stores in Wheaton. The food is excellent, the prices are cheap. People of all races, ethnicities, and socio-economic classes would line up to wait up to a half hour at times, to take away one of these special chickens for dinner. As loyal and devoted readers might remember, I chronicled the earlier difficulties of El Pollo Rico.

To sum up: busted for money laundering and immigration violations. Re opened (with new workers…) during the trial. Burnt down, along with the neighboring Army-Navy surplus store, in a grease fire… Sign appears in the new strip of shops on the corner of University and Georgia. Grand opening, and they are back in business, and I can happily report, the chicken is as good as ever.

My favorite chicken place is back!


The State, Surveillance, and El Pollo Rico’s Pretty Good Chicken

On Thursday, ICE agents raided El Pollo Rico, a very, very popular Wheaton area pollo a la brasa restaurant, charging the owners with money laundering and hiring illegal immigrants.

Now, as it happens, I live really close to this place, and I often (used to) go there for chicken. It is perhaps the best chicken one can get anywhere–in the DC area Zagat guide, they usually had a top 10 finish for food, up there with all the fancy restaurants, and they were a decidedly cheap eats venue. For $13.50, I could feed my whole family on a whole chicken, cooked to perfection, with a side of fries, cole slaw, and plantains.

Now the local blogosphere is all over this, with predictably mixed reaction. On the one hand, the law and order, close the border types are applauding the government while fans of the fantastic chicken are quite annoyed that a hard-working community icon they frequent is being shut down.

Aside from serving as yet another flash-point on the ongoing immigration debate in this country, I think that this story is indicative of yet another long-term trend in Political Science that often is under appreciated and under-noticed. That is: in the techno-globalized-capitalist marketplace, the state grows ever more powerful, and many of the things supposedly responsible for the retreat of the state, the eclipse of the state, actually are enabling the state to become significantly more powerful.

As the story goes, the heyday of the sovereign state was several decades ago, when the State controlled all the interesting and relevant levers of power in the international realm. With the rise of the global economy, globalization, and the Internet, there emerged a realm of significant international activity outside the purview of the state. Indeed, it was possible to have a complete existence outside the state, and in some cases, these global forces were powerful enough to even discipline the state into complying with global or market norms. Unfettered flow of capital, movement of people, and the exchange of ideas all beyond, across and through borders seemed to render the state irrelevant. The State is Dead.

And yet, Long Live the State. One tends to forget that many of these so called global institutions and structures that permit individuals and businesses to move beyond the state (the upside of globalization) also permit a seamy underside of globalization, but both are still dependent on structures formed, maintained, and monitored by the State. Moreover, the very same technology available to those challenging the state is also available to the State itself.

Most tend to look at this the other way–that which the state has is now available to the common NGO, business, or individual. But, in this case, its the state making use of powerful surveillance equipment to know more about what is going on in and around its borders than ever before. In the supposed heyday of the state, how much did the state really “know” about its citizens? Yet today, it can monitor each and every one of them and track scads of data in ways that were previously unfathomable. According to the Post report of the story, the key charges against the family that owned El Pollo Rico were financial:

The restaurant, at 2541 Ennalls Ave., accepted only cash. The Solanos paid employees who were in the county illegally in cash and wrote checks to those who were here legally, prosecutors said.

Federal agents say the Solanos deposited more than $6.6 million into a business account between June 2002 and September 2006 in increments of $7,000 to $9,000, which authorities say was done to avoid filing currency transaction reports that must be submitted with deposits that exceed $10,000.

The Solanos deposited checks from the business account into their personal accounts and used the proceeds to purchase residences, vehicles, loan and life insurance policies, and retirement accounts, according to the affidavit. Federal agents seized more than $2 million in cash and jewelry from the Solanos’ residences and vehicles, authorities said.

NBC4 (WRC) reported:

Officials said their investigation began about a year ago because of suspicious banking activity such as a quick succession of high-volume deposits and withdrawals. Officials said the underlying immigration violations were revealed over the course of the investigation.

In other words, El Pollo Rico was done in by the high-tech surveillance of the state attracted by its financial transactions. FinCEN has primary responsibility in the US for catching money laundering criminals, and the primary way they do that is with transaction reports by banks and other institutions that distribute cash (like Casinos). Every cash transaction over $10,000 must be reported to FinCEN, as well as any suspicious financial activity. As one might expect, they receive thousands of reports per year, so they rely on sophisticated technology and computer surveillance equipment to sort through all of that and identify questionable activities (as opposed to cash-heavy legitimate businesses).

20 or 40 years ago, it was next to impossible for a State operating in such a free market to really know all that much about what was going on inside or across its borders. Transactions like those at El Pollo Rico would have gone unnoticed until someone spilled the beans. Like Al Capone, you had to know who the bad guys were in order to finally find the financial crimes to put them away. Now, however, the state can survey financial flows, identify suspicious activity, and use that as a springboard to larger investigations.

That’s some power for the state.

And, it means I now need to find a new Chicken joint.


Weekend News Round-up

It wasn’t quite one of my best-laid plans, but it did go awry this weekend. I had intended to blog about 3 or 4 interesting stories I’ve been following over the weekend, but between feeding the new kid, searching for child care (if this were one of those so-called ‘mommyblogs,’ oh the stories i could post. but its not, so i won’t…) and of course the fantastic Taste of Wheaton today, time flew by and here it is, Sunday night watching the Mets – Yankees game (and I share Rodger’s view on this) and this is all that there is time to do. So, here goes:

Event I really really really really wanted to go to this weekend but couldn’t: The annual Joint Services Open House. The Security Studies Bombs and Rockets geek in me loves it. In fact, one might say that the annual Dayton Air Show at Wright Pat is partially responsible for my current career. Probably not a good place to take a 2-month old, maybe next year. We did see an F-117 flying over the Taste of Wheaton though, so I guess that counts for something.

From the Korean Peninsula–a big shift in North-South relations. The train tracks across the DMZ linking the DPRK and ROK finally opened, with the first train traveling between the two countries since the war. Is mostly symbolic, but holds promise for serious integration between the two countries at some point. Interesting point: My Freshman World Politics class in Fall 2005 predicted this. In their settlement to the 6 party talks, they had a special railroad deal that would link Korea to Europe via Russia. Lo and Behold, that’s what Korea wants out of this long term.

I was there two summers ago, and saw those train tracks. Its quite an amazing thing, to have a passageway across the DMZ.

Paul Wolfowitz resigned from the World Bank Presidency. My two observations on this: 1) It was bound to happen. Despite what everyone will publicly say, it was never just about the girlfriend, it was much more about the rest of the world, angry about Iraq and US Hegemony, finally finding a way to vent at the Bush Administration. 2) that said, it was not inevitable–Wolfowitz walked smack into this one. It not just the girlfriend issue, but the way he never fit into the Bank Culture. Part of the problem is that he’s an academic, a theorist, not an administrator. He’s got his theories about how to solve the world’s problems, and, in what has been one of the central flaws in decades of “development,” had the I know what’s good for you, do as I say and not as I do, don’t question my methods because I’m just a soul who’s intentions are good, oh lord, pleas don’t let me be misunderstood… He never figured out how to actually run an institution–not DoD, not Iraq, and not the World Bank. And he got his comeuppances.

Bush Appointed a 3-Star General to be the “War Czar” (or is it War Tsar?). Good luck General Lute. Its a job no one wanted, and so, in a trend noted by William Arkin, you have yet another Military Man taking what ought to be a Civilian Job. Because, of course, no civilian wanted it. Like all Czars, its a high profile job to solve an intractable problem that is probably doomed to fail. Like this 3-Star can really get 2 or 3 superiors in the Chain of Command (say Fallon, Petraeus, Gates) not to mention the Sec State or the National Security Adviser to sing from the same sheet of music. Like the DNI, its more bureaucracy in order to cut through the problems of bureaucracy. More to the point, it shows that no one in the Administration is actually doing their job, which is to avoid getting into situations that make such a job necessary in the first place. Besides, we already have a War Czar with all the appropriate authority and ability to cut through the bureaucracy, get the inter-agency process to cooperate and work, and keep everyone on the same page. Its called the President. Or at a minimum, his NSA….

And, from the we’re doomed in Iraq file, well, we’re… (can you tell its getting late, as my typing gets a bit faster and the language a bit looser?) Harpers recently published an article by Edward Luttwak on how there is no way the US can win in Iraq (hat tip to RNN on this one). He reviews the new Counter Insurgency manual that the top Army and Marine Generals developed based on successful in-country experience and are now attempting to apply in Iraq. Fundamental issue: its a ground war. (and, check out this from Intel Dump on how the Air Force is struggling to remain relevant in Iraq) More to the point–its a political ground war. The US Army is great at fighting ground wars against other armies. It doesn’t do politics, and all of its best abilities are useless unless it can solve the fundamental political problem that a) the people don’t believe that US forces are actually helping them, rather they are an occupying army intent on corrupting their way of life and b) without the political support of the local population, you can’t defeat an insurgency.

His conclusion: The US must either become something that it is not (or at least doesn’t claim to be)–a severely repressive occupying power that strictly and directly controls conquered territory OR face certain political failure in Iraq.

What I worry about is that, in the name of ‘victory for the forces of democracy’ those non-democratic impulses make inroads into US Foreign policy, fundamentally altering the identity of this nation in a very dangerous way. Its the danger of the Wolfowitz / Bush Administration way of doing business–if my intentions are good, don’t question the motive. But, bring in a little Ido Oren and John Ruggie and you can see not only how this threatens the fundamental underpinnings of US Hegemony, but threatens the very nature of the US itself (the quasi-cites make sense to me at least…).


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