Posted by: bkivey | 28 February 2011

Missing the Point

The local paper of record runs a feature in the Friday edition from PolitiFact.com, which describes itself as ” . . . a project of the St. Petersburg Times to help you find the truth in politics.” I lived in St. Petersburg for 10 years and am well aware of that newspaper’s editorial slant. While their ‘project’ does make a show of taking public figures on both sides of the aisle to task for making questionable claims and rhetorical flourishes, sometimes they just can’t help themselves. The article published on 25 February is a case in point where the writer is intent on playing ‘gotcha’ to the point where they dismiss the point of the statement with a journalistic wave of the hand.

The statement examined is the claim by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels when he stated that “Within a few years we will be spending more on interest payments than on national security.”

PolitiFact starts their analysis by consulting the White House budget. I’ve mentioned this before, but would it kill people to print the link, or at least the website name, of their source material? I’m assuming that they got their budget information from the Office of Management and Budget, and the budget summary is here. The relevant cited data is in table S – 4.

The summary table lumps all security spending together, which includes Department of Defense (DoD), TSA, and may well include the entire alphabet soup of agencies that could be remotely called security oriented, including CIA, FBI, etc. As delineated in the table, interest payments never exceed security expenditures. Now, most people might consider that the DoD budget is the national security budget, and that may have been what the governor had in mind when he made the statement. PolitiFact looks at this, noting that the DoD budget is around $700 billion annually and given the nation’s current financial problems, may be considered to actually fall in terms of real dollars in the future. Using those numbers interest payments may actually exceed the DoD budget later in the decade. PolitiFact dismisses this analysis as “mathematical sleight-of-hand” and judges the governor’s claim to be false.

But that’s not the point. Gov. Daniels was drawing attention to the fact that interest payments on the federal debt are going to grow ‘explosively’, in the words of the article, over the next decade. Yet so committed was the writer to discrediting an ideological opponent that the focus of statement was dismissed in favor of dwelling on an imprecise comparison.

Interest payments for FY 2010 were $196 billion. They are expected to double by 2014, and double again to $844 billion annually by 2021. That’s the approximate cost of the much-reviled health care reform law’s ten-year cost payable on an annual basis. The current interest payment exceeds the GDP of 27 states, including the GDP of Vermont, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota combined. If the projections are correct, and assuming a steady 3% per annum growth in state GDP, then by 2021 the interest payments on the federal debt will be greater than the GDP of every state in the union save Florida, Texas, California, and New York. The historical growth rate of the U.S. population suggests that by 2021 there will be about 360 million people, which puts the individual obligation for the interest payments, never mind paying down the principal, at over $2300 for every man, woman, and child in the country. That’s not money that can be deferred, it has to be paid to creditors every single year.

The interests of the United States as a sovereign nation are ill-served by the picking of nits when the larger point is ignored. Perhaps the folks at PolitiFact could better serve their fellow citizens by focusing on the very real problems we face as a nation, rather than a picayune concern with political rhetoric.

Grey Monday

The storm predicted last week turned out to be a non-event, with any snow that reached the ground Friday gone by late morning. Today is a little different. While no snow accumulation is expected in the valley, there is a lot of rain, and there are serious amounts of snow falling in the mountains.

This radar image captured just after noon today shows clouds actively precipitating. I’m at the circled cross just to the southwest of Portland.

 From an ODOT camera about five miles from me at the same time. Elevation 750 feet, 35F, and very wet.

The main pass over the Cascades at about the same time. This is  about 70 miles away as the crow flies, or about two hours if the crow drives, and if the crow is driving that truck, they’re probably rethinking their career.

Cool Weather Phenomenon

One of the sites I check daily is spaceweather.com, and yesterday they had a couple of interesting items. There is an amateur astronomer’s photograph of shuttle Discovery and the ISS prior to docking. There’s an amateur video of the station and shuttle here. That’s pretty cool, but even more interesting are the photographs of a spectacular display of solar arcs, rings, and sundogs captured on 26 February. I’ve seen rings of the solar and lunar variety, and seen sundogs a few times, but nothing like the display in the sky seen in the photos. This morning there was a video of the whole sky showing the ring parallel to the horizon encircling the sky and the false sun opposite the Sun, but that appears to have been taken down. There is another video of the phenomenon here.

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