Gross income inequality can cause a host of problems for a country. It inhibits social mobility, stymies the entrepreneurial spirit, and it ensures that the bulk of consumers on whom we rely to keep the economy moving lack the funds to meet many ends beyond those immediately related to their survival.
That the United States is terribly unequal (one of the most unequal of the developed nations) is no secret. But just how bad is it, really? The imbedded video provides a good video representation of the current state of wealth distribution in America.
2009 was a wild year in American politics. Fresh off of an election that was equal parts rejection of Bush-era policies and refusal to be force-fed Sarah Palin as a viable candidate for any public office, the American left celebrated. The American right, on the other hand, regrouped and reloaded.
Enter the Tea Party, loosely affiliated groups of conservative Americans who, through grassroots means, organized and banded together because they were upset over high taxes and the state of American debt. Bolstered by near daily coverage on Fox News and leveraging social media, the Tea Party movement spread like wild-fire. Local chapters and events popped up all over the country. The movement even helped the Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections. The Tea Party is truly an example of a powerful, organic response by an electorate to the policies of the state.
Or is it? A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Tobacco Control uncovered connections between tobacco companies, large-scale lobbying operations run by the Koch brothers, and the Tea Party movement. From the article’s abstract:
Starting in the 1980s, tobacco companies worked to create the appearance of broad opposition to tobacco control policies by attempting to create a grassroots smokers’ rights movement. Simultaneously, they funded and worked through third-party groups, such as Citizens for a Sound Economy, the predecessor of AFP and FreedomWorks, to accomplish their economic and political agenda. There has been continuity of some key players, strategies and messages from these groups to Tea Party organisations. As of 2012, the Tea Party was beginning to spread internationally.
Rather than being a purely grassroots movement that spontaneously developed in 2009, the Tea Party has developed over time, in part through decades of work by the tobacco industry and other corporate interests. It is important for tobacco control advocates in the USA and internationally, to anticipate and counter Tea Party opposition to tobacco control policies and ensure that policymakers, the media and the public understand the longstanding connection between the tobacco industry, the Tea Party and its associated organisations.
The full article is accessible for a fee, but DESMOGBLOG.com has a good breakdown of it here.
MAJ Edward H. Carpenter, Executive Officer of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 40 in Afghanistan, authored an article over at Duck Of Minerva yesterday. In it Carpenter breaks down what it takes to become a Marine Infantry Officer and explains why opening up the opportunity to female Marines is a good thing. Of particular interest is his description of the Combat Endurance Test:
[T]he officers are awake before 4 am, get dropped off in the middle of nowhere carrying rifle, a day pack, and a limited supply of food and water. Over the next 12 hours, the officers will be in near continuous motion, while being stressed out physically and mentally. They will swim, run, tread water, navigate with map and compass, perform pull-ups, push-ups, navigate an obstacle course, attempt to reassemble broken-down enemy weapons, and more. They will cover nearly twice as much ground as the enlisted infantryman does on his capstone exercise, the 20K endurance hike.
Read the whole article here.
North Korea’s propaganda department released a video over the weekend showing an apparent nuclear strike against a city in the United States. The video, presented as a young man’s dream sequence, depicts the launch of a North Korean spaceship via a rocket similar to ones recently tested by the Hermit Kingdom. While orbiting the Earth in this craft the young man is able to zoom in on different countries (including what appears to be a unified Korea). Towards the end of the video the camera zooms in on a city covered by an American flag which is subsequently destroyed by a vast explosion. LiveLeak has a good breakdown of the video here.
Setting aside for a moment the fact the North Korean rocket tests fail more often than they succeed, and that the country’s nuclear capabilities are crude at best, what are we to make of this video? Is it cry for attention from a mausolocracy that is currently run by an attention starved little boy? Is it rash posturing in the wake of UN condemnation of North Korean nuclear ambitions? Or is it meant as a genuine threat to the enemies of Kim Jong Un? One thing that does seem clear is that, while Iran sticks to the story of nuclear development for civilian energy needs, North Korea has no bones about making public her nuclear intentions.
On the 24th of January the Department of Defense announced that it would do away with the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule for women and open up more combat and combat support Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) to female service members. This announcement has been hailed as a coup for equal rights activists, but it is an even bigger victory for women who have been facing combat in the asymmetrical battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan despite this archaic rule and for those seeking advancement in a military hierarchy that reserves its highest echelons for troops who have served honorably in combat related positions from which women were explicitly excluded. Furthermore, the removal of the barriers put in place by this rule will widen the pool of candidates from which unit level commanders can draw to fill combat positions, thus relieving some of the stress that has been felt by the thinly stretched corps of young officers and non-commissioned officers over the last decade as they have been pressed into multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course this development has not been met with enthusiasm from all corners of the military. One of the most outspoken opponents of lifting these barriers is LTG (Ret.) Jerry Boykin. General Boykin is a US Army veteran, former member of the Special Operations and intelligence communities, and current Executive Vice President of the Family Research Council. As a fellow veteran, I respect General Boykin and appreciate all that he has done in the service of his country. But this soldier cum evangelical preacher is stuck in the backwards logic of an era when women were best confined to overseeing matters of the home. His views on the matter are not only a disservice to the women who have been bravely facing combat for years now, but also to the US military’s ability to prepare all of its members for the rigors of defending the nation.
For a recap and assessment of General Boykin’s thoughts on the matter I recommend the piece written by William Saletan over at Slate. It suffices to say that General Boykin thinks very little of a woman’s ability to go without certain amenities of personal hygiene for extended periods, or of a man’s ability to serve side-by-side with a women without being embarrassed about having to do so. This is to say nothing of the General’s lack of confidence in the military’s ability to uphold the standards of combat readiness or his seeming lack of understanding that women have already been serving on the front lines for over a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan where the front line is everywhere.
I posted my full thoughts on the DOD’s decision earlier in the week, and I won’t rehash it here. I will simply close be reiterating the fact that equal treatment and opportunity are rights that supposedly important in American society. Upholding them in this case does not require a lowering of standards, a lessening of combat readiness, or institutional detriment in the name of social experimentation. It will however require a change in the culture of military leadership that sees clearly delineated roles between the sexes instead of taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of the individual soldier and their ability to accomplish the mission. Not every female trooper will meet the standards required of an Infantry officer or a Fire Support Specialist, but those that can will be an asset to the nation and its military.