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Budget Update: Weapons of Math Destruction(+)

CalPundit has an explanation, of sorts, for Bush’s untrue statement about discretionary spending:

[referring to a chart in Bush’s budget titled “Percent Change in Discretionary Budget Authority] … discretionary spending outside of defense and homeland security went up 15% in 2001. Or rather, that discretionary spending authority — not actual spending — went up 15%. See, he was just speaking in a kind of shorthand, that’s all.

But even if that’s what he really meant, you may be thinking that it still doesn’t make any sense. After all, if total discretionary spending went up only 5.5%, how is it possible for his chart to show all three separate components going up by that much or more? Klingon math?

I too am curious about how the numbers 5%, 14%, and 15% (respectively, FY2001 growth in defense, homeland security, and non-defense/non-homeland discretionary spending) can average out to 5.5% (the overall growth of discretionary spending in 2001.) Mathematically, it’s possible, but a quick calculation shows that for this to be true, roughly 95% of 2001 discretionary spending must have been on Defense (*). I don’t buy that. In fact, Josh Clayborn’s second figure in this post shows that defense spending accounted for less than half of total discretionary spending in both 2000 and 2001 (2000: $305b of $637b; 2001: $308b of $665b) — again, flatly contradicting Bush’s statement.

In almost plain English, this means that if (1) defense accounted for 95% of discretionary spending while other stuff accounted for 5% of discretionary spending and if (2) defense grew at a 5% while other stuff grew at 14 to 15 percent, then and only then would the overall rate of discretionary spending growth be 5.5%. The numbers don’t add up.


(*) I compute this by lumping homeland and non-defense/non-homeland spending together as growing at roughly 14.5%. Defense grew at 5%. So if, from 2000 to 2001, 95% of total discretionary spending grew at 5% and 5% of total discretionary spending grew at 14.5%, then the weighted average is 0.95*(.05) + .05 (.145) = 5.48%.

(+) The title is from commenter Pierre at CalPundit; it was too good not to use.

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The Soft Bigotry of Lowered Expectations

The reviews are in, and with the notable exception of Juan Cole, almost nobody — conservatives included — agrees with my take. And that’s a good thing. Rooting for Bush’s Iraq policy or economic policy to go poorly is one thing (i.e., I’m against doing that), but rooting for a bad performance in an interview is perfectly fair game. I suppose I was expecting it to be really bad, when in fact it turned out to be somewhere between a somewhat bad and middling.

Andrew Sullivan: “BUSH IS OUT OF IT: On the budget, this president is frighteningly unaware of the reality of his own legacy and policies. That’s the only conclusion you can draw from his answers on Tim Russert. Either that, or he really is lying. Sully also links to a conservative blogger Josh Claybourn’s refutation of Bush’s statement about discretionary spending growth under Clinton and Bush. Clayborn has more numbers that support Kash’s earlier post (and clearly indicate that Bush was either wrong or lying.)

Brad DeLong has a bunch of excerpts from the conservatives at the National Review, all saying that Bush’s performance was weak. Brad himself doesn’t give his take (other than to, of course, laugh at the economic numbers Bush cites.) But he does give a nice critique of Russert.

CalPundit: “…Bush’s responses were uniformly labored and uninteresting. He sounded like he was addressing a class of sixth graders.”

Atrios: “Well, I’m not going to watch it. Some of you have already seen it, depending on where you live. From what I gather, Russert asked decent questions but no followups.”

Matt Yglesias: “Russert beat my (very low) initial expectations by offering some reasonable questions on the “imminent threat” issue.” Matt’s post also has a good list of questions not asked by Russert. No comment on Bush himself.

Pandagon’s Ezra K.: “It’s funny, I don’t think Bush did half as bad on Meet the Press as The Corner seems to. Bush came off as a man with strong values but not much else … The interview may have been a disappointment to some and a boon to others, but it’ll do little for either side.”

Pandagon’s Jesse Taylor: “I may be a partisan Democrat, but damn, that Bush/Russert interview was awful. The tenor of Bush’s presidency is, has been, and will be that nobody could possibly understand what America needs but him, and as such, either you’re an America, or you’re a partisan doubter of America’s resolve.”

Andrew Northrup (the Poor Man): Northrup gives Russert a B (“I think it’s the same interview Clinton would have gotten under similar circumstances” — I agree. Presidents do and should get more deference than candidates) and a C to C- to Bush. “When in doubt, he’d just repeat ‘Saddam was dangerous’ over and over, and perhaps throw in something about he’s the kind of leader who just does what he thinks is right, and ain’t nobody going to change what kind of man he is, by gum, and then give an inappropriate half-grin. Normally, this would be considered a disasterous answer, but it doesn’t vary significantly from what he’s been saying for three years now, and people find this charming, I’m led to understand.”

Susan M. (Suburban Guerilla) has a very provocative excerpt from Colin Powell’s book, My American Journey: “I [Powell] am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well-placed… managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units … Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to their country.” (Of course, you noted how Bush tried to conflate attacks based on him possibly failing to serve in the National Guard with attacks on the Guard itself.)

Josh Marshall only addressed the exchange on the AWOL issue: “Superficially, I think Bush came off okay [in the AWOL exchange], largely because Russert failed to press the president sufficiently on some deceptive responses.”

Juan Cole: “Overall, it was largely uneventful, but the president acquitted himself well enough. He came across as thoughtful and considered. And, while he was almost certainly prepared for hours by staff members, he didn’t appear to be giving the memorized speeches that one is accustomed to from politicians on these programs. Bush actually seemed to pause and consider his answers.” Finally, someone agrees with me, more or less.

Eric (The Hamster) reports that (1) Former Reagan speechwriter and hack columnist Peggy Noonan gives it a thumbs down. More substantively, Eric links to and excerpts a detailed refutation by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

Lambert (Corrente): “Anyone spot Bush wearing an earpiece? Readers? If the earpiece can’t be spotted, does analysis of the transcript itself yield any clues?” I take that as a roundabout way of saying Bush did well.

Blah3:”They must be one depressed bunch over at the White House today. They ran the pre-recorded Bush interview on MTP today, and while the videotape is still warm, the consensus seems to be that Bush pretty much sucked. [snip] My bold prediction – any bump in the polls they were hoping for is not going to materialize.”

Body and Soul: “I watched Bush on Meet the Press and then went immediately to the computer to see if the cool kids had the same reaction I did, which was that the interview was a smidge better than I expected.” By “a smidge better,” Jean means that it was a bit tougher on Bush than she expected, so count this as another in the “Bush did poorly” column.

A final note: The Center for American Progress has an Annotated Text of the President’s Interview, which is probably a much better read than the transcript itself.



Mark Kleiman: “A pair of awful performances, but Bush’s was even worse than Russert’s.”

Dave Neiwert: “I’m not sure why Tim Russert, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, has the reputation for being the bulldog interviewer that he has. Well, I know why: He’s very much the bulldog when it comes to Democrats and liberals. With conservatives, well, he has a long track record of letting them off the hook … And this Sunday’s interview with George W. Bush was perfectly consistent with this trend.”

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My Take on MTP

Here’s my take, prior to looking at other blogs: Bush did really, really, well. Most importantly, he sounded knowledgeable (which may fuel suspicions about vetting of questions.) Russert almost never interrupted or contradicted him, and I even caught him nodding in agreement a few times, which surely helped create this impression. This is only a statement about form.

On the substance side, his answers contained varying amounts of truth, spin, distortion, and inaccuracy (viz., his budget statement that Kash easily refuted). Another example was Bush’s invocation of his pre-war use of the phrase “grave and gathering” to demonstrate that he and his administration never said the threat was imminent, while ignoring (as did Russert) a whole host of other statements that the threat was, in fact, imminent.

So in a battle between form and substance, which one wins? My guess is form. Expect Bush to get a bounce from this. Now I’m off to read some other blogs, where I’ll hopefully see something that changes my mind. (One possibility, as Kash points out, is that the release of military records could be a big deal, if there’s anything there. Still, this seems unlikely since, if there were anything there, why release them?)

Transcript here.


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Bush’s Military Records

I’m still digesting the President’s MTP appearance. One interesting bit of possible fallout just caught my eye. Bush was asked about the well-known allegations that he failed to report to duty with the National Guard for a period of time in 1972-73.

Russert: But would you allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period?

President Bush: Yeah. If we still have them, but I you know, the records are kept in Colorado, as I understand, and they scoured the records.

And I’m just telling you, I did my duty, and it’s politics, you know, to kind of ascribe all kinds of motives to me. But I have been through it before. I’m used to it. What I don’t like is when people say serving in the Guard is is may not be a true service.

Russert: Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?

President Bush: Yes, absolutely.

Is this a real scoop, a new development? Some commenters, like Calpundit, say no – this statement by Bush doesn’t mean anything. However, what’s interesting is that the Washington Post is running with it as a legitimate pledge by the President:

Bush to Release Vietnam-Era Military Records

President Bush committed to the release of additional military records that would prove definitively whether or not he fulfilled his National Guard duties during the Vietnam War. Bush, seeking to quell a renewed controversy over whether he earned the honorable discharge he received, said he would “absolutely” release records such as pay stubs that would likely indicate more precisely how often he showed up for duty.

It will be interesting to see where, if anywhere, this goes…


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Lies, Direct from the President’s Mouth

From Bush’s MTP appearance this morning:

RUSSERT: But your base conservatives, and listen to Rush Limbaugh, the Heritage Foundation, CATO Institute, they’re all saying you are the biggest spender in American history.

BUSH: Well, they’re wrong. If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined.

Hmm. Seems easy enough to verify. Here is the level of discretionary spending over the past 5 years, from the CBO:

1999: $572 bn

2000: $615 bn, +7.5% change

2001: $649 bn, +5.5% change

2002: $734 bn, +13.0% change

2003: $826 bn, +12.5% change

Oops. Unless “the last year of President Clinton” was 2002, I think Bush is quite incorrect. The real question is how he can get away with lying about things that are so obviously and verifiably untrue.


UPDATE: I’ve written a new post about this, with a bit of new information and a bit of new analysis. The result is that it’s starting to look like the OMB may have gotten something seriously wrong.

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Opinion from the UK

No, this isn’t from the liberal Guardian, though it sounds like it is. Instead, it’s from the Sunday Herald (which, as far as I know is neither left nor right. The Telegraph and London Times are both right leaning, the Telegraph moreso. Perhaps a commenter can give some background on the Sunday Herald.)

When we later are told that the intelligence was flawed and that the head of the CIA, George Tenet, claims he never said there was an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and that, anyway, the reports of weapons of mass destruction were “faulty” due to poor human intelligence on the ground, then we all know that the game is up. That’s why the polls on both sides of the Atlantic show that Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush are fast losing the trust of the people. Yesterday, an NOP poll for The Independent found 54% of the public think Blair “lied” – yes, that is the word they were asked to give their opinion on – “to the nation” over Iraq. And the public has also lost any trust in Blair’s attempts to placate their concerns with his new Butler Inquiry into the failure to find any WMD. The poll showed 68% believe it will be another whitewash. Finally 51% believe Blair should go, while the Tories move into the lead over Labour. In short, the public have had enough of having the wool pulled over their eyes.


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The South

Bill Maher’s HBO show is very good — either in spite of or because of his including both liberals and conservatives on the panels. If you like The Daily Show, then it’s a pretty safe bet that you will also like Real Time. He had a great line last night: after discussing Kay’s testimony and intelligence failures, he quipped [paraphrasing] “intelligence this bad and the only person who gets fired is me.”

It looks like Salon will be posting a brief highlight from each week’s “New Rules” segment. This week’s was on Southern voters:

…if Southerners don’t want to have an inferiority complex, I say, “Stop doing things that make reasonable people think you’re inferior!”

Like, getting rid of slavery was a good start. But don’t quit there: Stop being the place that’s always challenging the theory of evolution. What’s next, gravity? Is that just a plot by the Jews up North to get people to drop spare change?

Southerners need to let go of the Civil War, beginning with those reenactments. First of all, you’re reenacting something you lost. It’s one thing to gloat about victory — when you do it about losing, your front porch is a few couches short of being decorated.


P.S. I’m from Texas.

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Red vs. Blue

Given my proclivity for Red and Blue numbers (see “Topics,” left), I’m not sure how I missed this until now. On 1/30, the NYT ran an Op/Ed by Gore’s former speechwriter Daniel Pink on th subject:

You might expect that in the 2000 presidential election, Republicans, the party of low taxes and limited government, would have carried the Giver states — while Democrats, the party of wild spending and wooly bureaucracy, would have appealed to the Taker states. But it was the reverse. George W. Bush was the candidate of the Taker states. Al Gore was the candidate of the Giver states.


78 percent of Mr. Bush’s electoral votes came from Taker states.

76 percent of Mr. Gore’s electoral votes came from Giver states.

Of the 33 Taker states, Mr. Bush carried 25.

Of the 16 Giver states, Mr. Gore carried 12.


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Prospects for Consumption Growth

In the comments, General Glut asks the salient question in the wake of today’s unemployment report: “How long until these poor jobs numbers (and the even poorer wage and salary numbers) start eating into US consumption levels?”

Good question! This is especially important when you consider that consumption spending (spending by households and individuals) makes up close to 70% of all spending in the economy. Whatever economic growth we’ve seen over the past 2 years has been all the result of increasing consumer spending.

Up to now consumption has remained strong even while wage income has barely grown thanks to three factors. 1) To some degree, households have been spending some of their assets such as houses (e.g. through taking cash out when refinancing); 2) There have been some temporary windfalls such as the tax rebates of 2001 and 2003; and, most importantly, 3) Households have increased consumption faster than their income has grown, simply by devoting a smaller and smaller fraction of their (stagnant) income to savings, and more of it to consumption.

All three trends seem destined to end soon. The last GDP figures may have warned of the beginning of the end of the recovery, in fact. But there are specific reasons why the three exceptional factors listed above are not likely to continue boosting consumption. 1) The refinancing boom is beginning to peter out, since mortgage rates have stopped falling for some time (so most people who were going to refinance at these rates already have), and house values may be nearing their peak. 2) There will be one more tax boost with refund checks that are a couple of hundred bucks larger for most families than usual in April and May, but after that no more tax boosts for the foreseeable future. At this point, our fiscal policy ammunition has been pretty much completely used up. 3) Savings rates are about as low as they can go. That means that there’s precious little room for households to further increase their consumption.

So, the job reports – not just number of jobs, but also how well they pay – matter a LOT to the future of this economic recovery over the coming year. A few more mediocre reports like this and it looks a sure bet that economic growth in 2004 will be slower than 2003, not faster.


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Bush Approval Drops Below 50

The AP just released its poll results this morning. It’s the second major poll this week (the other was Gallup) that shows Bush’s approval rating sinking below 50% for the first time. Do chickens really come home to roost, even for the Republican machine?

For your edification and amusement, here’s a nice picture of the trend in the AP’s poll results over the past 12 months.


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