I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Telling a Politically Incorrect Truth

The Right wing is all atwitter over Charlie Rangel's recent comments about the need for reinstating the military draft, and specifically over his concerns that poorer and less educated people wind up serving in the military in disproportionate numbers. (WARNING: That link goes to - ugh - Powerline, and my apologies to Ron for putting such a link on his blog, but they seem to be hosting the video and I don't see it anywhere else at the moment.) Before getting to the inevitable spin machine, let's take a look at the specific comments from Rangel which are so "offensive" to the wingers.
I want to make it abundantly clear: if there's anyone who believes that these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it. No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment. If a young fella has an option of having a decent career or joining the army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.
The bold section is obviously what any opponents of the Democrats are jumping on. Let's leave aside for a moment the fact that this comment, much like John Kerry's stupendously stupid joke of a few weeks back, is being taken out of context and twisted. That much would be clear to anyone not looking for a piece of meat to seize on and viewing this through the jaundiced eye of partisanship. I'll also leave aside the fact that Rangel is yet again politically tone deaf to be so careless with his choice of words. However, once you wave away all of the smoke and mirrors from those corners, we can take a look at the point that Rangel is trying to make and you'll likely see that there's more than a little truth to it.

I was disappointed when I noticed that Captain Ed, who is normally one of the more even handed observers on the Right wing, decided to jump on this as well with his entry, We Gotta Draft'Em Because They're So Dumb. Very sad indeed - a cheap shot without the substance to back it up. The Captain attempts to base his criticism of Rangel's views, once again, on the much touted (on the Right, anyway) study showing that very little such discrepancy exists.

Two points to make about this, here. But first, let me say that Rangel's generalization is dangerous and, at least in one aspect, incorrect. You can't make such a sweeping statement about all recruits. There are, beyond any question, a large number of people who, regardless of their social and economic backgrounds or educational opportunities, make the decision to go into the service. During a time of war, many more may do so out of a feeling of patriotism and debt to their country. Others may do so because it's a family tradition. I know that applied, at least in part, to my decision to enlist way back in the day.

However, the reality of it was also that we fell into a very common financial trap back in those days where my options were probably going to be limited to going to a local community college straight out of high school. Our family, in a rural area, made a tiny bit too much money to qualify for significant assistancee at the time, and my grades, while good enough to get me into school and even land a small Regents scholarshipp, were still not the top 1% that would garner the really big scholarshipss. Also, we were white, and thus cut out from some of the more minority specific entitlement programs. I can tell you, it was the same then as it is now for so many young people. If I'd had a definite path to a more prosperous post graduate study program and the promise of lucrative career opportunitiess afterward, I know I'd have looked at my options different. It still happens today where I live and all over the country. To deny that is simply unrealistic.

Second, there have already been numerous questions raised about that study the Captain is flaunting. Right off the bat, it was done by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. That's not to say they're incapable of producing anything accurate, but I've yet to see one of their "studies" that didn't benefit the Republicans. Also, the numbers themselves in that study are highly suspiciouss as usual. As has been previously pointed out, their base assumptions seem to skew the results away from reality. Let's take a quick look, paying attention to the bold sections with my emphasis applied.
The slight differences are that wartime U.S. military enlistees are better educated, wealthier, adn more rural on average than their civilian peers.

Recruits have a higher percent­age of high school graduates and representation from Southern and rural areas. No evidence indicates exploitation of racial minorities (either by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). Finally, the distri­bution of household income of recruits is noticeably higher than that of the entire youth population. ...

By assigning each recruit the median 1999 household income for his hometown ZIP code as deter­mined from Census 2000, the mean income for 2004 recruits was $43,122 (in 1999 dollars).
Item one: "...a higher percentage of high school graduates" than you'll find in the national youth. Well, duh. Even with all of the lowering of admission standards which the armed forces have put in place, I'm pretty sure that it's still a requirement that you have either a high school degree or a G.E.D. to get accepted today, unless you get a waiver for some reason. Obviously they will have a higher percentage of diploma holders than the national pool. The study also fails to clearly indicate whether or not that percentage includes G.E.D. holders or just those who actually received a diploma from high school with their graduating class. That was idiotic to point out in the first place.

Item two: "... a higher representation from Southern and rural areas..." This was obviously crafted as a way to fight the image of inner city urban youths being pulled into the war in large numbers. But guess what? Poverty in the South, out in the farmlands given the agricultural economy, is rampant -nearly as bad as you'll find in inner cities. Go compare present representation to how many you're getting out of Manhattan, Silicon Valley, Malibu, etc. and come back and read me the figures. That recorded "result" is completely disingenuous. Ok, so you want us to see that we're not just recruiting poor black kids from the inner cities? Fine. We'll give you that. We're also massively recruiting poor white kids from rural areas with collapsed economies and failing farms.

Item three: (and this one is a doozy) we have " By assigning each recruit the median 1999 household income for his hometown ZIP code " Did you catch that part? Nowhere does this study record the household income for the family of the recruit. Nope. It's an "assigned" income taken as the median for their entire zip code. I don't know about where you live, but in my zip code we have some high priced residential areas where BMWs and Mercedes tend to park by six or seven figure houses overlooking the valley, and a few miles away, some rental units down near the center of town where you wouldn't care to walk at night. The difference between the household incomes at the two ends of that scale is massive and if you just take the average into consideration, you'd probably think the guys down in the projects are all making 60K per year. Not so.

That study looks to me (and a few others before me, also) to be full of holes and deliberately skewed to try to warp reality. Anyone of any background who chooses to serve our country should be commended. Ron and I both did it, and I still salute all the other active duty members and veterans heartily. But let's not try to put too many layers of lipstick on a pig here. The military has ALWAYS been seen as one of the "fallback" options for kids coming out of high school who are in situations where their opportunities are limited. This doesn't make military service something which is not a "decent career", as Rangel's ill chosen words could be skewed to imply. But it's also a fact that a lot of kids balancing choices would most likely be taking a different path these days if their future looked more like a big office on Wall Street with a Park Avenue apartment, and less like an economy unit in the projects and job slinging hash.

Rangel chose his words horribly, but he points out an uncomfortable truth which we need to deal with. And ginning up some Heritage Foundation study to try to pretend the situation is otherwise does no good to our military and no good to our country. Powerline and the Captain should be ashamed.

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