Assume the Position

Saturday, May 17, 2003
This Isn't News? The Pew Research Center released the results of their latest public opinion poll on affirmative action May 14, 2003, and the press ignored it.*

That could explain one of the findings:

The Affirmative Action Debate: Still Below the Radar

Despite the flurry of press attention to the University of Michigan case, relatively few people ­ 18% ­ report having heard very much about the case, and fewer ­12% ­ say they have been very closely following news about the affirmative action debate in general. Despite being more interested in public debate over affirmative action, Blacks are more likely than whites to have not heard about the University of Michigan court case.

The case is more visible to the college educated (36% have heard a lot about it), than to the less educated (only 10% of high school graduates have heard a lot). And the issue of affirmative action has attracted much greater attention from liberal Democrats (27% following very closely) than from Republicans, independents, or moderate Democrats.

The press might be wondering what spin to put on this result, too:

Around 12% think affirmative action in college admissions is a "good thing" even though they consider it "unfair."

* Compare the response to this poll to the poll released the week before.

Google news results on latest poll: 0 (The 2 stories in the results are from April.)

Google news results on the prior poll: 130+ (Almost all based on the same Associated Press wire story from May 7th, the same day the poll was released.)

The title on the press release for the affirmative action poll:
      "Conflicted Views of Affirmative Action."

The title on the press release for last week's poll:
      "Americans More Optimistic About Economy, But Not Bush Tax Cut."

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
C-Notes. Some Canadian responses to the recent State Department terrorism report lit a fire under Combustible Boy. He napalms Jim Bronskill's Ottawa Citizen piece and the play it got in the usual corners. (Scroll to May 5th if the link doesn't jump down.)

Cinderella Bloggerfella shows that one anti-capitalist chestnut has always been a fairy tale. (Archive link not working, yet, but it's the top post.) If it were true, it would mean that humans would be immortal if it weren't for "capitalism" and the "international financial system."

Which brings us to the California cookie crank who wants to ban Oreo cookies because they contain trans fats from hydrogenated oils. (Via Technorati.) I don't know whether trans fats really "act like cholesterol in the body" or not, but what might be an oddly satisfying outcome would be for processed food manufacturers to go back to real cream, butter and other dairy products—which would end the calls for dairy price supports. Of course, there would be complaints that price of milk was too high; but it would be market pressures, not artifical supports, driving the price. (Complaints about the lack, or lousy taste and texture, of low-fat foods would be beside the point.)

UPDATE - May 15, 2003: The California cookie crank "is withdrawing his lawsuit against Kraft Foods." (Via Bill Quick.)

Sunday, May 11, 2003
I Can't Get No Defense Traction. As the campaign season rolls out, Clinton's military legacy leaves the Democrats spinning their wheels against a popular wartime president. Last week, Bill Quick pointed to this exchange:

McAuliffe's argument

Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, argued yesterday that his party actually has been stronger on defense than the Republicans.

"If you look at President Clinton, if you look at the Longbow Hellfire missile that was developed, which was very successful in Iraq, under President Clinton," Mr. McAuliffe said on ABC's "This Week."

"President Clinton added $112 billion, the longest sustained military buildup we had seen since the Cold War. Bill Clinton raised the pay of our military personnel, the first time in a decade. Bush-Quayle-Cheney, as you know, cut defense spending by $55 billion."

Show host George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, why he was smiling.

"Well, it's a great sound bite, but I love this matchup. Who do you like best as commander in chief, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush?"

Sen. Graham is right that "it's a great sound bite" because it's almost the truth and a lie at the same time. In other words, it is accurate enough that McAuliffe can't be called a liar, but so misleading that it might as well be a lie. The Democrats are stuck with spinning out sound bites like this because they have no traction on defense issues since Clinton really didn't give them anything to work with.

We'll tackle McAuliffe's claims in order. First the Longbow HELLFIRE:

Dec 90 DOD approved the entry of the Longbow HELLFIRE into full-scale development.

26 Dec 90 A letter contract for full-scale development of the Longbow HMMS was awarded to a joint venture between Martin Marietta Corporation & Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

Clinton was first sworn in as President two years later. His administration gets credit for not cancelling the program. Because such projects take a long time, however, the bulk of development did occur during his first term with operational fielding in his second term. (Laser HELLFIREs had been around for years. The Longbow HELLFIRE is a variant that has a millimeter wave seeker head to work in conjunction with the AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter's Longbow radar system, rather than being guided by a laser target designator.) So, accurate but misleading because development started before Clinton's presidency.

How about defense spending? This one is fairly complex, because there are several ways to approach it. In the comments of the Daily Pundit post, Ron* points to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) historical data showing revenues and outlays. Figure 1 is a chart of the defense outlays from the Carter administration through the current Bush administration. (Note, a president takes office during the second quarter of the fiscal year; so new presidents have little control over the budget during the first year of their term unless they get congress to pass supplemental or emergency appropriations.)

US Defense Outlays - FY 1977 to 2002 - Current dollars (unadjusted, billions)
  Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Bush
98 105 117 135 158 186 210 228 253 274 283 291 304 300 320 303 292 282 274 266 272 270 276 295 306 349
  77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 00 01 02
US defense outlays in current (unadjusted) dollars, rounded to the nearest billion.
CBO data here.
Figure 1

Using the five years from 1997 to 2001, the year of the first increase in defense outlays of Clinton's administration through the first year of Bush's, we don't see the claimed $112 billion increase. Cumulatively, there is only an increase of $59 billion (272 x 5 = 1360, 272 + … + 306 = 1419, 1419 - 1360 = 59). Nor do we see a Bush-Quayle-Cheney cut of $55 billion.

Things only get worse when the figures are adjusted for inflation. Figure 2 shows the outlays in constant (real) 2002 dollars based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). [Note: The Y-axis baseline changes between the current and constant dollar graphs so they will fit on an 800 x 600 display. The current dollar scale is $100 - $400, the constant dollar scale is $200 - $500, the range covered is $300 billion on both graphs.**]

US Defense Outlays - FY 1977 to 2002 - Constant 2002 dollars (billions)
  Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Bush
289 289 289 294 313 347 379 394 423 450 448 442 441 413 422 388 364 343 323 305 305 298 298 308 311 349
  77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 00 01 02
US defense outlays, CPI adjusted to 2002 dollars and rounded to the nearest billion.
CBO data here. CPI conversion factors from Robert Sahr using the
"Conversion Factors in 2002 Dollars (final) for 1800 to estimated 2013" Excel file.
Figure 2

Not only does it look like defense spending almost went down to Carter levels, the Clinton cumulative increase (2000-2001) is only $23 billion in real terms. But we do see a Bush-Quayle-Cheney cut of $58 billion (1991 -1993), or a $92 billion cumulative decrease.

To this point, it looks like McAuliffe is just wrong, but there are three problems with the above approach:

1. Outlays versus budget authority. People rarely discuss outlay figures, instead they talk about budgets or, more accurately, budget authority. From the glossary of CBO's "The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2004-2013":

outlays: Spending made to pay a federal obligation. Outlays may pay for obligations incurred in previous fiscal years or in the current year; therefore, they flow in part from unexpended balances of prior-year budget authority and in part from budget authority provided for the current year. For most categories of spending, outlays are recorded when payments are made or when cash is disbursed from the Treasury. However, outlays for interest on debt held by the public are recorded when the interest is earned, and outlays for direct loans and loan guarantees (since credit reform) reflect estimated subsidy costs instead of cash transactions.

budget authority: Authority provided by law to incur financial obligations that will result in immediate or future outlays of federal government funds. Budget authority may be provided in an appropriation act or authorization act and may take the form of borrowing authority, contract authority, or authority to obligate and expend offsetting collections or receipts. Offsetting collections and receipts are classified as negative budget authority.

The CBO outlay data includes delayed spending of funds budgeted in prior years and spending reimbursed by Kuwait for the Gulf war, which presents a distorted picture of administration budgets. While I can't find actual Presidential budget requests prior to FY 96 online, the President's current FY 2004 budget request contains Office of Management and Budget (OMB) historical tables that include budget authority going back to FY 76. While budget authority doesn't necessarily match the President's initial budget request, it is what the President eventually agrees to coming out of the appropriations process (unless he's vetoed the appropriations bill and then been overridden by Congress, a rare occurrence) and that is what counts.

2. Defense "Topline" or military budget. In the budget, national defense is Function 50, also called the Defense Topline. It consists of three Subfunctions: 51 - Department of Defense (DOD) Military, 53 - Atomic energy defense activities (Department of Energy), and 54 - Defense related activities (any agency). The military budget makes up over 95% of the Topline. Subfunctions 53 and 54 were about 2% of the Topline in 1977 and grew to almost 5% by 2002. This was a fairly linear increase from $2 billion in 1977 to $17 billion in 2002, with a $3 billion decrease from 1993-1995 before continuing its upward climb. The outlay figures in the previous charts reflected the Topline, but McAuliffe was talking about a Clinton "military buildup" so we should be looking at the Subfunction 51 DOD budget numbers, instead.

3. CPI versus other deflators. The CPI is what people generally think about when considering inflation. But the consumer breadbasket and other factors used to produce the CPI numbers don't have much of a relationship to government spending. Because the CPI tends to overstate inflation in many categories, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) based "chained" indexes are used by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to produce specific composite deflators. The deflator used for defense from this table probably provides a more accurate inflation adjustment when talking about military budgets.

We'll take care of those three problems by using DOD budget authority (Figure 3) and then adjusting it for inflation using the appropriate deflator (Figure 5).

DOD Budget Authority - FY 1977 to 2002 - Current dollars (billions)
  Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Bush
108 115 124 141 176 212 239 258 287 281 279 284 291 293 276 282 267 251 256 255 258 259 279 290 319 345
  77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 00 01 02
DOD budget authority, current dollars rounded to the nearest billion.
OMB historic budget authority data.
Figure 3

In Figure 3 we see the $112 billion cumulative increase from 1999 to 2001 that McAuliffe is talking about as well as the $55 billion cumulative decrease under Bush from 1991 to 1993. McAuliffe was telling the truth, but we'll continue on to see how misleading it was.

After the Cold War ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, everybody was looking for a "peace dividend." There was little question that the US military should be reduced and restructured for the post-Cold War world. The drawdown began during the first Bush administration, went off track for the Gulf War, and was accelerated after the war to put it back on schedule. Bush's final budget request in 1992 (for FY 1993), however, said that's it, we've reached the bottom of the barrel.

The administration has gone to some lengths to argue that the current cuts in military spending are significant and represent an adequate peace dividend. In his State of the Union Address, Bush warned Congress that the cuts would be "this deep, and no deeper." The statistics presented by the administration are worthy of close examination. The proposed fiscal year 1993 defense budget calls for spending $281 billion . Military spending remains roughly constant through 1995, then rises to $290.6 billion in 1997, the final year considered.

-- Jeffrey R. Gerlach
Pentagon Myths and Global Realities:
The 1993 Military Budget

Gerlach is using the Topline, converting that to the DOD line to match our chart would have Bush's 1993 defense budget at $267 billion, remaining roughly constant through 1995, then rising to $276 billion in 1997. During the 1992 campaign, Clinton said Bush wasn't proposing deep enough cuts and that he'd cut an additional $60 billion over five years. Clinton won and his additional cuts started with FY 94. Figure 4 compares the actual budget authority from 1993 - 1998 against an estimated version of the Bush request (we know Bush's FY 93 and FY 97 numbers).

FY 93-98
  Bush (est.)     Clinton  
267 267 267 251 268 256 272 255 276 258 278 259
  93 94 95 96 97 98
Figure 4

That shows Clinton's cuts were even deeper than he had campaigned on initially, at least $80 billion over the five years (FY 94-98). The "$112 billion, the longest sustained military buildup we had seen since the Cold War," which started in the last quarter of Clinton's presidency, wouldn't have been necessary if he hadn't previously cut $80 billion from the military budgets during the first three-quarters of his presidency.

Figure 5 shows the inflation adjustment, which puts Clinton's military budget below Carter levels.

DOD Budget Authority - FY 1977 to 2002 - Constant 2002 dollars (billions)
  Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Bush
290 288 286 292 328 366 394 397 425 412 404 404 402 393 355 351 327 301 301 289 286 284 300 302 326 345
  77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 00 01 02
DOD budget authority, inflation adjusted to 2002 dollars and rounded to the nearest billion.
OMB GDP (chained) price index defense deflator applied to OMB historic budget authority data.
Figure 5

What about the pay raises? There, more credit goes to Congress than Clinton. The prior big military pay raises to achieve some comparability with civilian pay occurred in 1981 and 1982 (11.7% and 14.3%), after which pay raises were Congressionally capped.

For budget reasons, pay raises have been capped most years since 1982, when military pay was last deemed "reasonably comparable" with the private sector. The cumulative pay gap widened to 13.5% by 1999, with serious retention and readiness consequences. In 1999, Congress acted to set military pay raises at ECI plus .5% each year for the period 2000 to 2006. Congress subsequently authorized higher pay raises in 2000, 2001 and 2002, including extra "targeted" increases for members with specific grade and longevity combinations (mostly mid-grade and career NCOs and officers).

But when the Military Officers Association of America says "Congress," they apparently mean it because the Clinton administration request didn't go as far:

The Administration's budget for fiscal year 2000 would substantially increase military compensation. It would provide an across-the-board pay raise of 4.4 percent (0.1 percentage point above the employment cost index, or ECI) and additional targeted pay raises of up to 5.5 percent for some mid- and senior-level personnel…

Other proposals would increase compensation even more. For example, S. 4, which was passed by the Senate last month, provides for pay raises to significantly reduce the so-called pay gap.

-- Christopher Jehn
CBO Testimony to Congress
March 3, 1999
The 2000 pay raise was 6.2%, basically the larger raise from S.4. instead of Clinton's proposal.

That sound bite was about the best the Democrats can do, especially the "Clinton…$112 billion…military buildup" versus "Bush-Quayle-Cheney…cut…$55 billion" line. Which means you'll probably be hearing it again.

UPDATE May 12, 2003: Corrected "five years from 1977 to 2001" to "five years from 1997 to 2001" in the paragraph following Figure 1. Thanks for the comment catching that, Barney.

Many thanks to Kim du Toit and Emperor Misha I for sending folks this way.

BTW, I hope the bar charts are showing up properly in most current browsers (Figs. 1-3 & 5 with dark bars, Fig. 4 with red and blue bars). If they don't, please leave a comment saying what browser and operating system you're using. I'm not planning on changing them, but if I ever make charts with HTML tables again I'll at least be able to warn people about the browsers that might have problems with them. Thanks.

*Update 2 - May 13, 2003: I originally credited the comment to Robin Goodfellow. Ron provided the link to the CBO data; Robin's comments followed right after Ron's. Robin pointed out the obvious (as does Rob Hartsock in the comments here) that Clinton's term covers most of the post-Cold War years up till now so "Anything he did would automatically become the 'longest -blank- of the post Cold War era';" and the not-so-obvious, that "this dramatic 'build up' was adding back what he had dumped out of the military budget in the first place." (Saying the latter is one thing, showing that the problem was Clinton's cuts rather than Bush 41's, is another.)

**Update 3 - May 27, 2000: Jonathan S. emailed a question about the scales on the graphs so I added a note to warn everybody that the baseline of the Y-axis is different on the constant dollar graphs than it is on the current dollar graphs. I don't think it changes anything (imagine the graphs 200 pixels taller), but I probably should have explicitly noted it. Thanks, Jonathan.

Sporadiblogs. Robin Goodfellow has a good post on the frustrations with blogging that almost lead him to give it up:

Partly that's due to not ever really developing a decent schedule for putting effort into writing for the blog. That's hurt the regularity of updates, which is no good for maintaining readership, but it's hurt the longer pieces I've been working on much more. You should see my "in progress" blog posts. Some of them are, I think, pretty damned good, but all of them (about a dozen or so) are in various stages of incompleteness and some of them are embarassingly old (one piece dates back a full 10 months). One of my major faults is that I am a perfectionist. I set unduly high standards of quality for myself and often I will feel that if something isn't as good as it possibly can be then it's not worth doing at all. It's something I have to constantly struggle with to keep it from putting me into a permanent stall.

My sporadic blogging habit is mostly because I'm more interested in understanding what I'm posting about than I am in blogging about it. I end up getting bogged down from a combination of information overload, following distracting trails, or fooling with the HTML instead of writing. (Developing the charts in the post on Clinton's defense budget are an example of all three. The distractions didn't actually end up in the charts, but I ran across plenty of interesting stuff along the way). I end up trashing probably 80% of the posts I start, setting 10% aside that I'll likely never get back to, and actually posting the last 10%.

My outlook is that things are almost always more complex than they appear and that the details really do matter. Many of the posts I toss are probably pretty good posts, but by the time I'm satisfied I'm being accurate and not just adding to the misinformation out there, the posts are a week or month behind the blogosphere and I look at them and say, "Why bother?" Which is what I probably should have said about this one.

Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.