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National Debt

In response to Obama's weekly statement last week, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) said the following:

“In the next five years, President Obama’s budget will double the national debt; in the next ten years it will triple the national debt.

“To say this another way, if you take all the debt of our country run up by all of our presidents from George Washington through George W. Bush, the total debt over all those 200-plus years since we started as a nation, it is President Obama’s plan to double that debt in just the first five years that he is in office.

“He is also planning to spend more on the government as a percentage of our economy than at any time since World War II.

I don't blame Gregg for being concerned about debt.  We simply can't continue to grow the debt forever.  That's common sense, but let's keep Obama's budget proposal and Gregg's sensationalist response in historical perspective.  Let's take a look the history of our debt.  The national debt is currently about $11 trillion.

Largest % of GDP since WWII?  Well, conventional wisdom says that we're also in the midst of the worst recession/depression since the Great Depression that immediately preceded WWII.  Conventional wisdom also says that it was deficit spending in response to the Great Depression and WWII that got our economy back on track.  Though we should be concerned about the debt, Keynesian economics says now isn't the time to cut spending.  Here's a plot from that illustrates the debt as a percentage of GDP:


Gregg is also quite concerned that in 5 years Obama will double the 200-plus years of debt since we started our nation.  Well, that 5-year to 200-year comparison is silly.  For many of those 200 years, the size of our economy was nothing like it is now...they simply aren't comparable.

From Data360, here is a plot of debt history in absolute terms.


The blue line is what Gregg is talking about in his 200-plus-year concept.  However, take a look at the value when Reagan took office ($1 trillion).  Then follow the line to the present day.  That little plateau and slight reduction were during the Clinton years.  During the 20 years that Reagan, Bush, and Bush were in office, the debt grew from $1 trillion to $11 trillion, a factor of 11.  Compare that to the debt growth that is freaking out Gregg: doubling in 5 years (equivalent to 2x2x2x2 = 16 over 20 years) and tripling in 10 years (equivalent to 3x3 = 9 over 20 years).  That is, Obama plans the debt to grow by a factor comparable to what happened under Reagan and the two Bush presidents. 

Reagan had his tax cuts and immense military build-up.  His peace-time debt growth was unprecedented.  Bush had his tax cuts and war in Iraq.  Obama has his economic stimulus, healthcare reform, and addressing climate change.  Regardless of how you look at the debt (in terms of % GDP or in absolute terms), it seems to me that Obama's budget plans are more or less a continuation of the addiction to debt pioneered by Reagan, Bush, and Bush.  It's no secret that fiscal conservatives aren't too happy with the debts racked up by George W. Bush, but I don't get the impression that the feel the same about Reagan.  I'm pretty sure that the debt accumulation by neither Reagan nor Bush elicited the doomsday projections that Obama's is prompting.  Does Obama Derangement Syndrome deserve any of the blame.

Did He Bow?

The peeps of the guy pictured here

hands and here


are freaking out because of this?

bowing to Saudi King 


Ted Stevens

From the NY Times:

The Justice Department moved on Wednesday to drop all charges against former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who lost his seat last year just days after being convicted on seven felony counts of ethics violations.

The case was one of the most high profile and bitterly fought in a string of corruption investigations into current and former members of Congress. But Justice Department lawyers told a federal court Wednesday that they had discovered a new instance of prosecutorial misconduct, on top of earlier disclosures that had raised questions about the way the case was handled, and asked that the convictions be voided.

The attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., said he would not seek a new trial.

What I've seen of Stevens was not impressive (and, at minimum, he showed some really bad judgment in this situation), but he got a raw deal here.  It's safe to assume that he'd still be in the Senate if he hadn't been convicted.  We're lucky that he was prosecuted by a Republican administration and had the convictions voided by a Democratic one, or we'd never hear the end of this one.



I've been thinking about the media lately.  It's such an easy target from both sides of the political spectrum to complain about how the media gets the story wrong.  Everyone knows how biased and clueless the mainstream media is.  Actually it always seems a bit goofy to me to hear someone complain about a story not being reported in the "mainstream media" - somehow the complainer managed to hear about the story despite the media, right?  Somehow the news seems to be getting out.

Is there such a thing as "mainstream media" anymore?  Does it matter?  These days there are a multitude of news sources available that cater to whatever point of view you like.  On top of that, there are even outfits that keep a sharp eye on the media and point out every hint of bias in its coverage of the other side...for example, Media Matters and News Hounds for the left and NewsBusters on the right.  I think those sites are definitely useful, but sometimes they verge on ridiculous.  NewsBusters, for example, doesn't just report on factual errors or clear examples of bias.  They seem to get cheesed off at each and every positive mention of Obama in the media (understandable, I guess, if you start from the assumption that anything positive about Obama surely must be off-base).  They even report on the goings-on in the comment section at The Washington Post.  The comments!  Web site comments!  Where you find almost exclusively garbage, almost by definition.

I think having all of the sources of news and information is a good thing.  I don't really care that much that most sources don't just report the facts.  Typically the facts are easy to come by, but what do the facts mean?  Which facts are important?  Which ones aren't?  What should I expect next?  That's the valuable/useful stuff.  That requires more than just the facts.  It requires a perspective, maybe even a bias.  The trouble with sites like NewsBusters and News Hounds (and to a lesser extent Fox News and MSNBC) isn't that they have a bias or a certain perspective.  It's that they are ALL from one perspective.  As far as you would know from Newsbusters/News Hounds, there is only one side that is biased and it's the liberal media/Fox News.  Basically, this shows you can't trust them, and therefore you don't know if you can trust their interpretation of the facts because you already know that they are extremely biased.  So you find sources that you both like and trust, that you feel like you can count on to tell you the truth about your guy, even when it hurts.  For me, it's people like John Dickerson, Matt Miller, maybe even Tony Blankley (whose columns I don't really find useful but who often seems like a reasonable observer from the right on Left, Right, and Center).

While thinking about this stuff, I came across a recent NY Times Op-Ed by Nicholas Kristof titled "The Daily Me."  He explores similar themes and highlights how we tend to search out information that supports our own biases rather than actually educating ourselves:

...there’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information — but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.

One classic study sent mailings to Republicans and Democrats, offering them various kinds of political research, ostensibly from a neutral source. Both groups were most eager to receive intelligent arguments that strongly corroborated their pre-existing views.

There was also modest interest in receiving manifestly silly arguments for the other party’s views (we feel good when we can caricature the other guys as dunces). But there was little interest in encountering solid arguments that might undermine one’s own position.

At a time when so many news sources and perspectives are available, we're apparently using them mostly to confirm what we already "know."

Kristof goes on to describe this political segregation:

Almost half of Americans now live in counties that vote in landslides either for Democrats or for Republicans, he said. In the 1960s and 1970s, in similarly competitive national elections, only about one-third lived in landslide counties.

“The nation grows more politically segregated — and the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups,” Mr. Bishop writes.

One 12-nation study found Americans the least likely to discuss politics with people of different views, and this was particularly true of the well educated. High school dropouts had the most diverse group of discussion-mates, while college graduates managed to shelter themselves from uncomfortable perspectives.

The result is polarization and intolerance. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor now working for President Obama, has conducted research showing that when liberals or conservatives discuss issues such as affirmative action or climate change with like-minded people, their views quickly become more homogeneous and more extreme than before the discussion. For example, some liberals in one study initially worried that action on climate change might hurt the poor, while some conservatives were sympathetic to affirmative action. But after discussing the issue with like-minded people for only 15 minutes, liberals became more liberal and conservatives more conservative.

His prescription:

So what’s the solution? Tax breaks for liberals who watch Bill O’Reilly or conservatives who watch Keith Olbermann? No, until President Obama brings us universal health care, we can’t risk the surge in heart attacks.

So perhaps the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore. Think of it as a daily mental workout analogous to a trip to the gym; if you don’t work up a sweat, it doesn’t count.

Now excuse me while I go and read The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.

I think he's got great points about the dangers of the echo chamber and the benefits of discussing issues with people of differing perspectives.  I completely agree.  I actually enjoy those kinds of discussions on the very rare occasion that I have a real discussion partner.  It's useful to think about how to explain my perspective to someone else.  It's useful to hear other perspectives.  How can you claim to have a reasoned view if you haven't seriously considered both sides?  However, in my experience it doesn't work out most of the time.  On blogs, Facebook, and message boards I try to "spar," but I usually don't find what I would call a partner.  A sparring partner wouldn't just focus on disagreement.  A sparring partner would demonstrate an open mind and communication by also admitting when I make a good point, by highlighting where we agree, by admitting when he is shown to be wrong, and by acknowledging when I say something reasonable even if the partner doesn't agree.  A partner would treat me with respect and not attack my character or my motives.  A sparring partner won't see the world as purely black or white, red or blue, donkey or elephant.  I KNOW those are not fair descriptions of the world I live in; if you THINK or PRETEND it is then it becomes obvious pretty quickly what the sparring is accomplishing...nothing.  Even in these circumstances there is still some small value in formulating an explanation of my view, but that's usually not enough incentive to sustain the dialogue when it becomes obvious that it's just falling on deaf ears.

Anyway, I admit there is a liberal media bias, but come on.  There's plenty of bias on both sides.  Give it a rest.  No?  You don't see it? Well, how about these recent classics:

For example, there was the recent quote from Coach K.  As Media Matters reported, Fox News and the AP reported this from Coach K:

"Somebody said that we're not in President Obama's Final Four, and as much as I respect what he's doing, really, the economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said from the Blue Devils' first-round site in Greensboro, N.C.

Not surprisingly, you started seeing references to this showing up on Facebook.  However, turns out that wasn't all Coach K said:

But Krzyzewski was smiling as he said that, and his very next words -- not reported by the AP or Fox -- were "Why would I care about that? I love the guy, and I think he's gonna be great."

Fair and balanced?   Right.

Then there's Biden's "fundamentals of the economy are strong" quote.  As reported by Think Progress:

...Fox News’s Martha MacCallum introduced a segment highlighting Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Christina Romer’s claim yesterday that the “fundamentals of the economy are sound.” “After weeks of economic doom and gloom, the Obama administration is now singing a slightly different tune,” MacCallum said.

She then played clips of Romer and other administration officials making seemingly positive comments about the current state of the economy. One of the clips was of Vice President Biden saying, “The fundamentals of the economy are strong!” After the segment, MacCallum said, “All right, well the mantra for the weekend is clear, looking at what was said over the course of the shows on Sunday.”

But the clip of Biden seemingly making a recent remark about the strength of the economy is grossly inaccurate. The Biden statement was actually from last September — during the presidential campaign — when he was quoting Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Not only are they super fair and balanced, but they sniff out bias in places you might not expect.  As summarized by Crooks and Liars:

[Bernie] Goldberg, on Bill O'Reilly's show Wednesday, started out claiming, like Angela McGlowan, that Jackie Mason's use of the racial slur "schvartze" isn't "a bad word." Then Bill O'Reilly noted that his dictionary, quite accurately, notes that the word is frequently used as a pejorative:

O'Reilly: OK, but here's what the dictionary says. The dictionary says the word s-c-h-v-a-r-t-z-e -- "often disparaging and offensive."

Goldberg: Forgive my arrogance. The dictionary is written by some liberal person.

See, in Bernie Goldberg's world, even the dictionaries have a liberal bias.

Wouldn't you know it?  Fox News is so fair and balanced that their senior Vice President for Programming, Bill Shine, admitted the following:

With this particular group of people in power right now, and the honeymoon they’ve had from other members of the media, does it make it a little bit easier for us to be the voice of opposition on some issues?

No, I don't think Fox is uniquely biased, but it is biased.  If you only get your news from Fox News yet complain about liberal media bias...then something is amiss.

Before wrapping this up, a couple more things to add.  The following videos aren't particularly related but are interesting to watch for someone like me who doesn't normally watch Fox News:

Beck weeps

Smith vs. Beck


Cutting Defense

Is Defense the one department that Barack Obama is cutting?  If so, is that a bad thing?

The Wall Street Journal's editorial writers said so earlier this month in an article titled "Declining Defense":

For all of his lavish new spending plans, President Obama is making one major exception: defense. His fiscal 2010 budget telegraphs that Pentagon spending is going to be under pressure in the years going forward.

The White House proposes to spend $533.7 billion on the Pentagon, a 4% increase over 2009. Include spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, which would be another $130 billion (or a total of $664 billion), and overall defense spending would be around 4.2% of GDP, the same as 2007.

However, that 4% funding increase for the Pentagon trails the 6.7% overall rise in the 2010 budget -- and defense received almost nothing extra in the recent stimulus bill.

Steve Chapman responded in an article titled "Mythical Defense Cuts":

Cindy Williams, a defense scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former assistant director of the Congressional Budget Office, points out that, leaving aside the two wars we are fighting, Obama wants to spend 2 percent more in the next fiscal year than President Bush allocated for this year, and 11 percent more than we spent last year.

Bush also planned for the defense budget (apart from Iraq and Afghanistan) to shrink slightly each year starting in 2010. Obama's blueprint calls for the defense budget to remain about the same. "Spending will actually be higher under Obama's plan than under Bush's," says Williams.

But as conservatives have been known to point out, Washington policymakers have funny ways with numbers. Last year, the Defense Department asked for an increase of nearly $60 billion in the 2010 budget over what had been planned. The Obama administration declined but agreed to a smaller increase.

So conservatives should be pleased, right? Wrong. Since the increase the Pentagon got is less than it wanted, they claim Obama is "cutting" defense spending. By that logic, if you ask for a 50 percent raise and get only 10 percent, you've suffered a pay cut.

The real question is not why Obama wants to spend so little on defense but why he wants to spend so much. Since 2001, our military outlays have soared by 40 percent, after adjusting for inflation. And that's not counting the costs of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We not only spend more than anyone else, we spend more than everyone else. reports that in 2004, the United States lavished $623 billion on the military. All the other governments on Earth together managed only $500 billion. Even this gap understates our dominance, because most of the other top spenders are U.S. allies.

No nation can dream of challenging us in the air or at sea. We have a huge nuclear arsenal capable of inflicting mass annihilation on a moment's notice.

Meanwhile, the demands on our military are easing rather than growing. Under the agreement Bush signed with the Iraqi government, which Obama has reaffirmed, we are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. The threat from Al Qaeda has been greatly reduced.

We spend more on the military than the combined total of every other country in the world, Obama proposes spending increases relative to what was spent previously and what Bush proposed, yet the WSJ chastises him for "cutting" defense?  I think that's "deranged."


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