Cross-posted at OrgTheory.

David Henderson and Zachary Gouchenour have a paper on the topic of presidential ratings. The finding is simple. American war casualties, as a fraction of the population, positively correlate with how historians rate U.S. presidents. More death = better presidents. The regression model includes some controls, like economic growth. Here’s the chart:

This is consistent with sociological research on state building, which has traditionally linked wars, bureaucratic growth, and tax collection. See, for example, Charles Tilly’s classic work “Warmaking and Statemaking as Organized Crime.”  My one criticism of the paper is that there is no measure in the regression that controls for “big legislation” (i.e., New Deal). Historians like law passing and it might account for some variation. I have a hunch that is how variation on the right hand side of the figure would be explained.

Henderson and Gouchenour then spin out the policy implication. Greatness rankings by historians may prompt presidents to start more wars. The historians may have more blood on their hands than we care to admit.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz


Fabio Rojas is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. He is the author of two books: From Black Power to Black Studies: How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline and Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know about Academia from Admissions to Tenure.  Rojas’ academic research addresses political sociology, organizational analysis, and computer simulations.

This morning NPR had a segment on the history of the U.S. income tax. A federal income tax was first introduced during the Civil War to make up for lost tariffs due to blocked ports and sunk ships. However, in 1895 the Supreme Court declared the income tax unconstitutional. In 1913, the states ratified the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

For a couple of decades, only the wealthy paid income tax. However, war — in this case, World War II — once again increased the need for taxes. The government had to convince a larger portion of the population to pay income tax. The Treasuring Department and Disney produced “The New Spirit,” a short film featuring Donald Duck. The film presented paying taxes as patriotic and essential to the war effort, and helped normalize the income tax for all workers:

For another example of World War II-era Disney propaganda in support of particular government policies, see our earlier post on Victory through Air Power, which justified bombing civilian targets.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

A recent post on Boing Boing discussed the newly discovered “rules for jazz performers during the Nazi occupation.”  Jewish and Black people — two groups targeted by the Nazis — were also the primary innovators of jazz music. But even as the German state denigrated jazz, jazz musicians, and swing dancers, Nazi soldiers loved jazz!  How to handle such a contradiction? Rules for playing jazz music: no “Jewishy gloomy lyrics,”  no “Negroid excesses in tempo,” and no “hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races.”  

It’s well worth a look, as is this post from 2010 explaining how many groups vilified by Nazis survived the Holocaust by playing jazz for Nazi soldiers…


I have a favorite historical musician: Django Reinhardt.

Reinhardt was a Roma jazz musician. During World War II both Roma and jazz musicians were targeted by the Nazi regime. Over a million Roma were exterminated for presumed racial inferiority and jazz was believed to combine the worst of Blacks and Jews (i.e., “musical race defilement”). Just listening to a jazz record could get you sent to a concentration camp.

Reinhardt, however, enjoyed the most lucrative period of his career during the war, while living and playing openly among Nazi soldiers.


Reinhardt biographer Michael Dregni, recently interviewed by NPR, explained:

The Germans used Paris basically as their rest-and-relaxation center, and when the soldiers came, they wanted wine and women and song. And to many of them, jazz was the popular music, and Django was the most famous jazz musician in Paris… And it was really a golden age of swing in Paris, with these [Romas] living kind of this grand irony.

Reinhardt, then, survived because the Nazis loved jazz music, even as Hitler censored the music and, on his orders, people who dared to listen to, dance to, or play it were encamped and members of the groups who invented it were murdered.  Irony indeed.

For more on Reinhardt, jazz, and World War II, here is a clip from a documentary on Reinhardt’s remarkable talent, career, and luck:


UPDATE: A commenter, Bernardo Soares, offered an interesting critique/clarification in the thread.  Here’s part of what he had to say:

…I think it is grossly misleading to write that Reinhardt “enjoyed the most lucrative period of his career during the war”. He enjoyed the protection of some individuals in the German occupation force. This is not so unusual — the composer Richard Strauss who headed the Reichsmusikkammer used his influence to protect some Jewish composers. But as many other examples show, this was extremely precarious. As long as these individuals had the power to protect him, he was probably relatively safe, but he could still be shot by any soldier at a whim or be accidentally included in a deportation action. Also, these individuals could lose their power, or some higher-ranking officer could order him to be deported. Reinhardt tried several times to escape occupied France.

[Also] …the whole issue of music and art politics in the Third Reich is much more complex than stated in the video. The Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) was not the only institution regulating music politics. As with many other bureaucratic institutions in the Third Reich, several agencies struggled for influence and power. This means that music politics was often contradictory, and the absence of a clear regulation as stated in the video opened the door for arbitrary measures – again emphasizing the precarious situation of musicians. The competition and struggle for power between different agencies led to a radicalisation of racial and cultural politics, and this was even taken further in the occupied countries.

I do love this topic.  I also have a post on racial borrowing and lindy hop, the dance that made me love Django.  A paper I wrote about gender and lindy hop can be found in the journal Ethnography. And I have a talk based on the paper that I love to give in theory classes.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

Here is a short (less than 4 minute) video that illustrates the fact that 53% of our tax dollars, conservatively estimated, go to finance our military.

And here is a link to a recent study by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier on the employment effects of military spending versus alternative domestic spending priorities, in particular investments in clean energy, health care, and education.

The authors first examine the employment effects of spending $1 billion on the military versus spending the same amount on clean energy, health care, education or tax cuts.  The chart below shows their results.


Moreover, even though jobs in the military provide the highest levels of compensation, the authors still find that “investments in clean energy, health care and education create a much larger number of jobs across all pay ranges, including mid-range jobs (paying between $32,000 and $64,000) and high paying jobs (paying over $64,000).”

Let’s see if these facts come up in the next Congressional budget debate.

Shamus Khan brought my attention to an interesting image posted at La Course vers la Maison-Blanche, a French-language blog about U.S. politics. The image (in English) shows where U.S. troops are stationed around the world, at bases that vary widely in size and permanence.

Not surprisingly, with the U.S. engaged in two wars (until the official announced end of U.S. involvement in Iraq at the end of 2011), during the 2000s the percent of all U.S. troops stationed in other countries has been at its highest levels since the end of the Vietnam War (though we also see an uptick in 1990, corresponding with the Gulf War against Iraq, and then a significant reduction during the ’90s):

Total number of troops stationed in other countries:

So where are these troops? Scattered on every continent except Antarctica, with concentrations in Europe, South Korea and Japan, and the Middle East,though the map in Iraq would presumably look different now):

Enlargeable image available here, with detailed descriptions of the U.S. military presence in various countries.

Updated; originally posted July 2009.

Americans are notorious for their ignorance of global issues and international news.  This may be because Americans aren’t interested or it may be that our news outlets feed us fluff and focus us only on the U.S.  Probably it’s a vicious cycle.

This month, for example, Time magazine’s cover story is about the political strife in Egypt… everywhere except the U.S. that is.  Americans get “pop psychology” (via Global Sociology):

It turns out you can go to the Time website and compare covers from previous issues going back a long ways.  Here are some more examples from the last couple years (I cherry picked just a bit):

Dmitriy T.M. sent in these previous examples a while back.

The cover story for Newsweek magazine’s September 2006 edition was “Losing Afghanistan” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “My Life in Pictures,” a story about the photographer Annie Liebovitz in the U.S. (via):


The cover story for Newsweek magazine’s October 2006 edition was “Global Warming’s First Victim” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “Off Message,” a story about Republican Congressman Mark Foley’s sexually suggestive emails and IMs to teenage boys (via):


The cover story for Time magazine’s April 2007 edition was “Talibanistan” in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It was “Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public Schools” in the U.S. (via, also see Time):


As SocProf writes:

Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy: Americans are assumed to not be interested in international and global affairs… ergo, Time decides to replace a perfectly legitimate and newsworthy cover on a significant event in Egypt with some pop psychology item. As a result, Americans are less informed and knowledgeable on global affairs because they do not get intelligent coverage on that topic.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

The deficit commission, better known as the “Super Committee,” failed to produce a plan to cut deficit spending by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years.  According to the ground rules of the agreement that created the commission, its failure is supposed to trigger approximately $1 trillion in “automatic” spending cuts that will go into effect beginning January 2013.

The agreement included the following stipulations for guiding the automatic cuts:

  • Approximately 50% of the required reduction is to come from the so-called security budget (national security operations and military costs).
  • Approximately 32% is to come from non-defense discretionary programs (health, education, drug enforcement, national parks and other agencies and programs).
  • About 12% is come from Medicare (reduced payments to Medicare providers and plans).
  • The rest is to come mostly from agricultural programs.

To be clear, these are reductions to be made in projected budget lines.  In other words, the cuts to the security budget will not produce an actual decline in security spending, only a slowdown in the projected increase previously agreed to by Congress.

As I previously argued, the failure of the commission is a good thing.  The commission was actively considering structural changes to a number of key social programs.  One was to change the formula for calculating social security payments so as to reduce them.  Another was to raise the age at which people could access Medicare. The automatic cuts, if enacted, will reduce spending on important programs, but at least they do not include steps towards their dismantling.  In fact, Social Security and Medicaid are exempt.

The next stage of the budget battle has now begun.  Political forces are maneuvering to change the formula for the automatic cuts mandated by the budget agreement.  In fact, this maneuvering began weeks before the commission formally announced its failure to agree on a deficit cutting plan.  According to a November 5, 2011 New York Times report:

Several members of Congress, especially Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, are readying legislation that would undo the automatic across-the-board cuts totaling nearly $500 billion for military programs, or exchange them for cuts in other areas of the federal budget.

I believe that we need to enter the fray with a different plan, one that includes blocking further cuts to non-defense discretionary programs and Medicare.  It is worth recalling that the agreement that established the deficit commission already included approximately $1 trillion in cuts to non-defense discretionary programs.

It is the security budget that we need to focus on.  And we need to be clear that our aim in demanding cuts to that budget, as well as tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, is to help generate funds to support an aggressive federal program of economic restructuring not deficit reduction.

The table below makes clear just how important it is to target the security budget. It shows the pattern of  federal spending on discretionary programs, defense and non-defense, over the years 2001 to 2010.  The big winner was the Department of Defense, which captured 64.6% of the total increase in discretionary spending over those years.  It was still the big winner, at 36.9%, even if one subtracts out war costs.

While the defense gains are staggering, they do not include spending increases enjoyed by other key budget areas dedicated to the military.  For example, many costs associated with our nuclear weapons program are contained in the Energy Department budget.  Many military activities are financed out of the NASA budget.  And then there is Homeland Security, Veteran Affairs, and International Assistance Programs.  It would not be a stretch to conclude that more than 75% of the increase in spending on discretionary programs over the period 2001 to 2010 went to support militarism and repression. No wonder our social programs and public infrastructure has been starved for funds.

There is no way we can hope to reshape our economy without taking on our government’s militaristic foreign and domestic policy aims and the budget priorities that underpin them.

Homefront war support is a critical part of war; care packages, letters, emails, and phone calls greatly increase troop morale. Typically homefront war support is gendered. In the U.S., women are usually the ones at home providing support to the men serving. During various wars the military has encouraged women to support male troops. It’s patriotic, as this WWII poster notes:

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have altered our images of the gendered make up of the homefront and warfront. Today 16% of the military is female, and even though women are not officially allowed in combat positions, they are often in combat situations in the current wars, where the lines of combat are blurred. As a result, over 115 women have been killed in combat. We’re still used to seeing these kinds of images:

Embed from Getty Images

But images such as this are becoming more common:

Embed from Getty Images

But a student of mine brought me the following ad from the most recent issue of Cosmopolitan:

Main text:

Cosmo and Maybelline New York are collecting ‘kisses’ for our brave armed forces overseas. For each ‘kiss’ you send, we’ll donate $1 to the USO.* Detach a postcard from the previous page, write a note of thanks with our Color Sensational kiss, add a stamp and drop it in the mail. *Up to $20,000

So Maybelline has teamed up with the USO (United Service Organization- a private, non-profit organization) to send support, in the form of “kisses,” and up to $20,000, to the troops overseas.

The assumption here is that armed service members are male and need the support of “kisses” from the homefront—a homefront that is comprised of women. The campaign is also an example of heteronormativity (the often unnoticed ways that heterosexuality is normalized and privileged) because it assumes that (men) serving overseas are heterosexual and will want to receive lipstick kisses from (presumably heterosexual) women. While women service members have been more visible during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this campaign reminds me that war is still largely gendered in a heteronormative fashion. The warfront is still thought of as men’s domain, the homefront women’s domain, and war support relies on heterosexual relationships.