Sunday, December 2. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
William Astore: Generals Behaving Badly: Among other things,
this answers one question I've been wondering about: how damn many
generals (and admirals) are there?
America's military is astonishingly top heavy, with 945 generals and
admirals on active duty as of March 2012. That's one flag-rank officer
for every 1,500 officers and enlisted personnel. With one general for
every 1,000 airmen, the Air Force is the worst offender, but the Navy
and Army aren't far behind. For example, the Army has 10 active-duty
divisions -- and 109 major generals to command them. Between September
2001 and April 2011, the military actually added another 93 generals
and admirals to its ranks (including 37 of the three- or four-star
variety). The glut extends to the ranks of full colonel (or, in the
Navy, captain). The Air Force has roughly 100 active-duty combat
wings -- and 3,712 colonels to command them. The Navy has 285 ships --
and 3,335 captains to command them. Indeed, today’s Navy has nearly
as many admirals (245 as of March 2012) as ships.
Any high-ranking officer worth his or her salt wants to command,
but this glut has contributed to their rapid rotation in and out of
command -- five Afghan war commanders in five years, for instance --
disrupting any hopes for command continuity. The situation also
breeds cutthroat competition for prestige slots and allows patterns
of me-first careerism to flourish.
Justin Elliott: Have US Drones Become a "Counterinsurgency Air Force"
for Our Allies?: US drone strikes have killed about 2500 people
since Obama became president. Some of those were "high value targets"
that have been publicized, but most weren't. (The number works out
to about two per day.)
Under the Obama administration, officials have argued that the drone
strikes are only hitting operational Al Qaeda leaders or people who
posed significant and imminent threats to the U.S. homeland. If you
actually look at the vast majority of people who have been targeted
by the United States, that's not who they are.
There are a couple pieces of data showing this. Peter Bergen of
the New America Foundation has done estimates on who among those
killed could be considered "militant leaders" either of the
Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, or Al Qaeda. Under the Bush
administration, about 30 percent of those killed could be considered
militant leaders. Under Obama, that figure is only 13 percent.
Most of the people who are killed don't have as their objective
to strike the U.S. homeland. Most of the people who are killed by
drones want to impose some degree of sharia law where they live,
they want to fight a defensive jihad against security service and
the central government, or they want to unseat what they perceive
as an apostate regime that rules their country.
Robert Reich: Wal-Mart and McDonald's: What's Wrong with U.S.
Employment: "The walkouts were no coincidence. Low wages are
strangling the economy."
Jobs are slowly returning to America, but most of them pay lousy wages
and low if non-existent benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates
that 7 out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low-wage --
like serving customers at big-box retailers and fast-food chains. That's
why the median wage keeps dropping, especially for the 80 percent of the
workforce that's paid by the hour.
It's also part of the reason why the percent of Americans living below
the poverty line has been increasing even as the economy has started to
recover -- from 12.3 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2011. More than 46
million Americans now live below the poverty line.
Many of them have jobs. The problem is that these jobs just don't pay
enough to lift their families out of poverty.
[ . . . ]
The wealth of the Walton family -- which still owns the lion's share
of Wal-Mart stock -- now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of
American families combined, according to an analysis by the Economic
Last week, Wal-Mart announced that the next Wal-Mart dividend will be
issued on December 27 instead of January 2, after the Bush tax cut for
dividends expires -- thereby saving the Wal-Mart family as much as $180
million. (According to the online weekly "Too Much," this $180 million
would be enough to give 72,000 Wal-Mart workers now making $8 an hour
a 20-percent annual pay hike. That hike would still leave those workers
under the poverty line for a family of three.)
Reich reminds us that in Paul Ryan's Republican budget 62 percent
of spending cuts fall on the poor. But it's hard to see just how much
can be squeezed there: one key thing that spending does is to make it
possible for workers to work for less, so you might as well view the
"safety net" as a bizarre form of subsidy for low-wage employers. Take
that away and what happens? Hard to say, but it's already ugly, and
getting worse. Businesses feel pressure mostly from their financial
backers to push wages down, but that in turn pushes the buying power
of the economy down, which increases those financial pressures (as
if sheer greed wasn't enough), into a form of death spiral. It's one
of those trends that can't go on forever without something breaking
Also, for further study:
Bruce Bartlett: Revenge of the Reality-Based Community: Oh, to be
young and Republican again. Well, not really. I had pretty much written
him off as a possibly useful source after his series of special pleading
books, but I saw him on TV recently and no one -- and on a panel where
everyone was respectable or better -- managed to be so sharp and pointed.
This piece explains how he got to where he is now, a combination of push
(revulsion over George W. Bush) and pull (realization that Paul Krugman
is always right). Still, he probably does still yearn to be young and
Republican again: he just knows that neither are possible.