AJ Vicens is the Interactives/Data Fellow fellow at Mother Jones. His past work includes time in newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, and his stories have appeared in the Washington Post, ESPN.com, and 5280 Magazine.
Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced major cuts to the Pentagon budget. If implemented, the proposal would shrink the Army to its smallest size since World War II. Tighter budgets, Hagel said, require a smaller force, though he maintained that a downsized military still "would be capable of decisively defeating aggression in one major combat theater—as it must be—while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater against an adversary."
The budget also targets personnel costs, with cuts to soldiers' housing allowances and commissary subsidies, as well as potential increases in health-care fees for the family of active service members. Hagel also proposed a one-percent pay raise in 2015, though pay for flag officers and generals would be frozen at current levels.
Those cuts take a small swipe at what's known as "brass creep"—the swelling ranks of generals and admirals who earn high salaries and retire with cushy pensions. Congress approved multiple raises during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but a look at base pay rates (what soldiers earn before add-ons like housing allowances and combat pay) shows that the wartime wages didn't trickle down the chain of command.
Any cuts that directly affect the rank-and-file (not to mention retired service members) will be unpopular. Yet they address the reality that even though three-quarters of the Pentagon's budget goes to hardware, contractors, and operations, an increasing amount is spent on the troops. While the number of Americans in uniform increased 3 percent during the past decade, the annual cost per person doubled, to around $115,000.
Though these Pentagon cuts are being described as major, Hagel and the president's proposed future budgets still exceed the limits put on the military by the suspended sequester cuts—which already kept defense spending at the level it was at during the height of the war in Iraq. The United States is in no danger of being knocked off its perch as the world's biggest military spender in the near future. There's much more on the battle to rein in the size of the post-9/11 military here.
Black Stats, a new book by Oakland-based academic, author, and activist Monique Morris, explores that data and much more about black American life from education to the entertainment industry to the justice system. "There's a lot of information that floats in the public domain about black America," says Morris, and a lot of damaging numbers get tossed around without context. She hopes her book can debunk persistent myths and reset misleading narratives, explaining, for instance, that black overrepresentation in jails doesn't mean the majority of the incarcerated population is black. She also explores areas that aren't usually talked about and she says could use a lot more research, like sexual identity and the rising rate of acceptance of gays in the black community.
Morris talks about some of the surprising and lesser-known numbers she came across in her work, and you can see more in the charts below the video:
The beauty of great data visualization is that it renders wildly complex information into easily digestible pieces. What was once complicated still is, but now it's much easier to understand. Music does that in its own way, taking individual notes that fit together via incredibly complex patterns and stringing them together to make a rich and nuanced flow that gets past the complexity. When the two come together, you get something like this. Prepare to be mesmerized and blow part of an otherwise productive day with Igor Stravinksy's The Rite of Spring, visualized, from the people at The Music Animation Machine.
Colorado and Washington were just the start. The movement to end the prohibition of pot is catching fire, with legalization bills and ballot measures now being discussed in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Marijuana activists predict that recreational pot smoking will become legal this year in Alaska, Oregon, and quite possibly Rhode Island, which could be the first state to take the leap by a vote of its legislature. But that's not all: 24 states are looking at creating or expanding medical-marijuana programs, or are vastly scaling back penalties for small-time possession. With a slew of polls now showing that most Americans think pot should be taxed and regulated like alcohol, it's probably only a matter of time before legalization sweeps the nation.