Searching for the essence of humor is a delicate business: Dig too deep, and you kill the joke. Fortunately, Peter McGraw, an irrepressible psychology prof, and Joel Warner, his straight-man scribe, deliver entertaining answers to nagging questions like: Do unhappy people make better comedians? Are some things too horrible to laugh at? And how do you win The New Yorker cartoon contest? Despite getting heckled by colleagues in the surprisingly serious field of humor studies and bombing as a stand-up comic, McGraw lays out a convincing theory about how humor works and why it's an essential survival mechanism.
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.
Officially, the Great Recession of 2007 ended in June 2009. Yet the economic downturn remains in full effect for millions of Americans, particularly the nearly 40 percent of the unemployed who have been looking for work for six months or more.
In less than a week, emergency federal unemployment benefits for 1.3 million of these jobless Americans are set to run out. Proponents of ending the benefits argue that the economy is expanding and that the benefits prevent people from finding work. "You get out of a recession by encouraging employment not encouraging unemployment," according to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who opposes extending benefits. However, the data shows that while corporate America has bounced back, it is not restoring all the jobs it shed when the economy tanked five years ago.
Currently, nearly 11 million Americans are unemployed. The unemployment rate stands at 7 percent. Both of those stats are improvements from a little more than four years ago, when the post-recession jobless rate peaked at 10 percent and more than 15 million people were out of work.
However, there currently are more than 4 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer. Not since the Great Depression has the United States experienced such massive and persistent long-term unemployment.
Overall, the long-term unemployed (those with out a job for six months or longer) make up nearly 40 percent of all the jobless.
Long-term unemployment has not affected all Americans evenly. African-Americans and the poor make up 23 percent and 34 percent of the ranks of the long-term unemployed, respectively.
For many people, going without work for more than six months can kick off a vicious cycle or financial and personal crises that may take years to break out of.
While the unemployment rate is steadily falling, hiring has not recovered as quickly as it did during the three most recent previous recessions.
Currently, there are about three people looking for work for every job opening. Compare this to 2007, when "job seekers ratio" was nearly half that. The ratio varies widely across industries, but even in the most applicant-friendly industry, insurance and finance, has 30 percent more seekers than positions.
Meanwhile, corporate America has regained the financial ground it lost during the Great Recession. Real corporate profits after taxes have grown 30 percent since 2007, while the number of jobs is still below its pre-recession level.
They say that an army marches on its stomach, but another measure of a military's power may be how it protects its rear. The prospect of running out of government-issued TP has become a talking point against trimming defense spending. Former Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work cautioned that if sequestration was allowed to continue, "we will go back to 1975 where I'm buying toilet paper for my Marines." Former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) warned of the bad old days before 9/11 when "we did not have enough money to get toilet paper for some of our soldiers." So far, budget austerity does not appear to have seriously affected strategic toilet paper reserves, though the Air Force Academy went into a temporary holding pattern when its tissue procurer was furloughed.
Click here for more on the Pentagon's bottom line.
Just how much TP the military goes through is a bureaucratic enigma. (Grunts in Vietnam were reportedly issued 19 squares a day.) According to contracting data, the Pentagon bought an average of $2 million worth of "toiletry paper products" annually between 2000 and 2010. Yet that figure jumped to $130 million in 2012. A closer look at the numbers reveals about $58 million of paper products you might conceivably wipe with, plus a ton of padding—including $2.7 million of lightbulbs and $9.6 million of canning supplies. Let's just chalk up those to the Pentagon's infamously sloppy accounting system.
So who is getting flush on the military's bathroom budget? In 2012, the Pentagon's—and the government's—biggest vendor of toiletry paper products was Georgia-Pacific, a.k.a. Koch Industries.