Sept. 6, 2020: “Covid-19, economy top issues for many Ohioans”

by Renee Fox Warren Tribune

In a recent “Your Voice Ohio” inspired article Renee covers the results of a July poll of a Ohio voters coordinated with the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics of Akron University. While the article talks about many of the issues that were cited, no supporting data was given or description of how this particular portion of the overall polling of the voters was conducted. Were voters given a list to choose from or were they asked to list the concerns on their own and then the responses counted to determine their frequency. That might not sound like it is important, but it helps one understand why some concerns that often make the list are missing. But another factor may better explain that.

“…there is a great deal of agreement on the issues most important to improving life – COVID-19, the economy, healthcare, racial equality, income inequality.” “At the lower end of spectrum, the respondents named mental health, international peace and security, environmental protections, infrastructure, public services, drug addiction and immigration reform.”

The article gives us a clue that the polling was done by supplying a list for those polled to rank:

“But differences in demography – gender, age, education, religion and more – play a role in how those issued are prioritized.”

The article continues by stating that voters want to hear more about the issues from the presidential candidates. It also stated that the papers plan on covering the issues in the coming weeks.

While nicely written and interesting, my concern is whether this process is self fulfilling. The Gazette has been full of articles on the Covid-19, the economy, climate change and healthcare so it is easy to understand how those would be on peoples mind. But the paper has had few articles on the unrest in Portland despite the fact it has lasted over 100 days, or that occurring in other cities. I believe I’m correct in saying there have been no articles on the Social Security Trust Fund Report that was issued April 22 or the recently issued Congressional Budget Office report which projects our level of Gross Debt to Gross Domestic Product will far exceed what it reached at the end of WWII. Both of those topics will have a greater impact on the nation as a whole if nothing is done about them than even the Covid-19 virus. Yet we see articles on Covid-19 on a regular basis, but none on the other two.

Were Social Security and National Debt on the list given to those polled?

Are we in an echo chamber where the Gannett Papers are concentrating their efforts to covering the Covid-19 virus, thus making it voters number one issue causing the news papers to carry more articles on Covid-19? It sure seems like we are.

But how do we get out of the echo chamber?

Sept 11, 2020: “Plant bulbs soon for early spring color”

by Steve Boehme of the Chillicothe Gazette

In this article, Steve encourages readers to plant Narcissus bulbs, more commonly known as daffodils. He states that late summer and early fall is the best time to plant the bulbs to have a nice show of color in early spring. He also states that daffodils are a good choice because they “rapidly multiply into large clumps” and because “they aren’t attractive to rodents or deer” so they “can be ‘naturalized’ in wooded areas”.

My wife and I certainly agree with that advice. After moving into our newly finished house in August 1994, we began planting spring bulbs. The first few years we planted about 6,000. While there were some tulips and others kinds of bulbs, many were different varieties of daffodils. And just as Steve reports, the daffodils have been the most successful. Having planted early, mid and late varieties, now each spring we get between 30,000 and 40,000 blooms over a five to six week period. They also make great arrangements for the house.

But that’s only half of the story. When you get large clumps it is best to dig them up and “split” them. When you do you get a great return on your original effort. Where you might have originally planted five or six bulbs you might now be digging up 50 to 75. So after you replant five or six bulbs you’ll have as many as 45 to 70 bulbs to plant somewhere else. And it won’t materially impact your spring display!

I began splitting our daffodil bulbs as far back as 2010. I’ve been replanting them in new areas of our property, especially in the words. Over the years we’ve also been sharing bulbs with friends and family. In 2013 I started planting bulbs on the grounds of Adena Mansion. I did that for four years and over that period of time planted approximately 2,000 bulbs. Now there is a nice show of daffodils at the museum and in some of the woods around it.

I estimate this year we’ve dug up at least 1,000 bulbs. But even with that number taken out of our yard we’ll have another great display next summer. We’ll be giving some of the bulbs away and planting others at the graves of some of my wife’s relatives. We’ll also be planting many of the others at the Millennial Grove. And next summer or the summer after I’ll most likely be splitting some more. It becomes a never ending source of new spring color!

So if you like spring flowers that give you years of pleasure, I strongly recommend you take Steve’s advice and plant some daffodil bulbs this fall.

Opinion: “Are we overacting to the Covid-19 virus ‘crisis’?”

The Chillicothe Gazette has had a large number of articles and opinion pieces related to the Covid-19 virus outbreak we’ve been experiencing this year. They’ve included articles telling us the number of the cases, the actions taken to stop its spread and the impact those actions have had on the economy. This week alone we’ve seen a Fact Check article related to Ohioans’ risk of dying from the virus and an article on nursing home Covid-19 deaths. I’m sure we’ll see more articles coming in the coming weeks.

With all that coverage, coupled with the fact that the original estimate of 2.5 million possible deaths from Covid-19, is it any wonder that a recent poll of Ohio voters found that Covid-19 was their number one concern? I don’t think so.

But what is the risk of death from Covid-19 for most Ohioans? The article on nursing home deaths stated that 64% of Ohio’s Covid-19 (4,354) deaths were related to nursing homes. That means nursing homes have accounted for approximately 2,786 of the total Covid-19 related deaths in Ohio. That leaves 1,568 deaths from non-nursing homes environments equating to approximately to 1% of Ohio’s normal annual death count. So, as the facts on the actual risk Ohioans face from Covid-19 come out, it think it is only natural for individuals to second guess whether our state’s government properly reacted.

Just as an example, an Ohio statewide shutdown was mandated prior to Ross County having its first Covid-19 case! That was also the case for many other rural counties in Ohio. Was that shutdown actually justified?

Chillicothe has seen shops and restaurants go out of business since the shutdown began. Yet the non-nursing home, prison and healthcare related cases in Ross County is less than 600 and total deaths are only 17.

So is it possible that the shutdown we’ve experienced might have been an over reaction?

(At the same time there are some other issues that have gone unreported that we should be reacting to! I’ll cover a couple of them in future “Opinion” pieces.)

Sept. 11, 2020: “Ohio’s nursing home deaths are clustered”

by Deon J. Hampton of the Cincinnati Enquirer

Today’s Chillicothe Gazette included an article on Ohio’s Covid-19 nursing home deaths. The main point of the article is the fact that while nursing home deaths were seen in “at least 250 nursing homes” “the deaths were concentrated in a quarter of those facilities…”.

That really wasn’t all that surprising, but something else in the article was. It was the statement that: “Nursing homes accounted for 64% of all of Ohio’s coronavirus deaths.” I thought that was so surprising since only 11% of Ross County cases were related to nursing homes.

I went to the Ohio Department of Health’s website to see how many Covid-19 deaths the state has seen. (Unlike Ross County Health Department’s website site, I had to work hard to find the Covi-19 data.) It showed 4,064 deaths and another 290 expanded count deaths for a total of 4,354 total Covid-19 deaths. 64% of that number is 2,786 leaving only 1,568 deaths not related to nursing homes. Prisons have also been a source of a substantial number of coronavirus cases and possibly deaths Healthcare workers also represent a large concentration of cases. So it is reasonable to assume that the percentage of deaths not related to nursing homes, prisons and the healthcare profession is much less than 36%.

So, while not the purpose of the article, what the article indirectly pointed out is how few deaths have occurred outside the nursing home environment.

A search on the internet resulted in a source that estimated Ohio’s 2019 population at 11.69 million people. If Ohio’s overall death rate is 1% that would be 116,900 deaths a year. If it is 1.5% it would be approximately 175,000. So Covid-19 deaths so far only equals 1% of Ohio’s normal annual deaths.

Sept. 10, 2020: Political Cartoon titled “Not a Good Sign”

Distributed by Cage Cartoons

The September 10th issue of the Chillicothe Gazette includes a political cartoon making fun of those who claim “Global Warming is a Hoax”. It does it by showing a long haired man holding a sign while the above slogan while the sign burns. Is that supposed to convince us that “man-made global warming due to use the use of fossil fuels” is actually occurring? While I’ve recently covered this topic in a prior post, I’m going to cover it again here.

Is global climate change real? Have we been experiencing warming temperatures? The obvious answer is “YES”! Why can we say that? We can say that because a short 20,000 years ago massive sheets of ice covered most of what is now called the Midwest and New England. That period of glacial activity is known as the Wisconsin Glaciation. ( Prior to that two other periods of major glaciation was experienced in North America. The last of those is known as the Illinoian Galciation.)

So if we start at 22,000 years ago we find cold temperatures and a thick sheet of ice, estimated to be as much as one mile thick, covering much of what is now Ohio. What must have happened since that sheet no longer covers Ohio. In fact it no longer exists in Michigan, the state north of Ohio. And that sheet of ice no longer exists in Canada where it got its start. In fact the only part of that massive glacial event that still exists are the glaciers in Greenland. And we’ve recently seen articles talking about how the Greenland glaciers are melting.

It’s pretty clear that sometime around 20,000 years ago the northern hemisphere started to experience warming temperatures. The increase in temperature must have been substantial if it was able to melt a massive sheet of ice one mile thick covering much of northern North America. And since the warming started around 20,000 years ago it’s been going on for quite awhile. Of course that’s the understatement of all understatements!

Call me crazy, but I’m glad global warming took place. I enjoyed my fishing trip to Ontario, Canada and my bird watching trip to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Neither of those trips would have been possible if global warming hadn’t occurred.

The current “man-made global warming” movement was spurred on by a climate chart of the 1,000 years produced by Prof. Michael Mann. It looked much different from other charts which closely match the one produced by climatologist Tim Ball. Tim Ball’s chart includes both the Medieval Warming and Little Ice Age, both well documented in Art, Literature, History and Science. Michael Mann’s chart excludes both. Last summer Prof. Mann’s liable suit against Tim Ball was dismissed when he refused a court order to share the underlying data his chart was based on.

So if the key evidence for the man-made global warming the movement turned out to be bogus, what does that say about the movement’s claims? It looks like global warming has been going on for quite some time. Any temperature increase we’ve experienced since the end of the Little Ice Age is most likely part of that long lasting global warming that started at a time when there were few humans , not something that just started 170 years ago.

Prior article.

Sept. 09, 2020: “Post says most Ohioans safe from virus”

by Anna Staver of the Columbus Dispatch

The September 9, 2020 issue of the Chillicothe Gazette included an article labeled “FACT CHECK” in which the journalist attempted to fact check a Facebook post on how safe Ohioans are from the the Covid-19 virus. The two statistics quoted in the Facebook posting referenced:

“chance of contracting the coronavirus”

“Survival rate” for “those who aren’t in prison or a nursing home”

It’s overall point was that the odds for both of those for residents of Ohio are very small.

In fact checking the “chance of contracting the coronavirus” claim Anna makes the following point:

“Perhaps more seriously, health officials have said all along that confirmed cases represent only a fraction of actual cases, many of which are asymptomatic.”

Ana goes on to state:

“That means using only confirmed cases to calculate the odds of getting Covid-19 will fall well short of the actual figure.”

After discussing the validity of both of the Facebook posts stated statistics, the article concludes:

“Our ruling: Partly false”

Some of the numbers in the Facebook post are correct, but the conclusions it draws about the likelihood of specific Ohioans to both contract and survive the coronavirus are inaccurate.”

The article goes on to list the sources it used to fact check the post.

Consistency is important for the purpose of fact checking the post. If it is important to include asymptomatic cases in calculating the odds of contracting the virus wouldn’t it also be important to include asymptomatic cases when calculating the odds of surviving the virus. However the fact checkers use it in the first, but not the second calculation.

The real answer to both questions is: “The odds depend on so many factors and unknowns that we have no meaningful way to calculate the actual odds, but the odds are quite low for both.”

Calculating a statewide statistic is even more meaningless than calculating a county wide statistic when determining our odds. But let’s look at Ross County numbers anyway. Last night I checked the Ross County Health District website for the latest posted information. This is what I found:

  • Confirmed Cases 806
  • Inmate, prison employee and healthcare worker cases: 295
  • Other occupations or no occupation cases: 511
  • Hospitalizations 107
  • Deaths 17
  • Total population 76,600

However those numbers reflect the entire period of time Covid-19 has been around and may not reflect current odds!

A key statistic that isn’t reported anywhere is the number of asymptomatic cases, but that’s for a good reason. Why would one get tested for the virus if you don’t have any of the symptoms? You probably wouldn’t. The articles states:

“…confirmed cases represent only a fraction of actual cases…”

The problem with that statement is it doesn’t give us any indication of what size fraction it is. Fractions range from “nearly equal” like 99.99% to only a small portion like 1.00%. So stating that “confirmed cases represent only a fraction of actual cases” doesn’t help in the least. Furthermore, if we did know the exact number of asymptomatic cases and included them both calculations it would increase the odds of contracting the virus, but decrease the mortality rate.

The real answer to the two questions is:

“We can’t give you an exact number on your odds of contracting and surviving the Covid-19 virus because it depends on too many factors and unknowns. However unless you are in a high risk group your odds of both are quite low.”

So why do we have an article in the Gazette fact checking a Facebook post’s statistics that can’t be properly calculated in the first place? Why challenge the facts with other meaningless facts? And how are the post’s conclusions “inaccurate” as the fact checker states? Maybe this article is in the Gazette and other Ohio papers because the post’s conclusions are actually true for many Ohioans and that might make the virus less important when Ohioans go to the polls in November?

The Gazette and Climate Change: Pushing the Climate Change Hoax

Occasionally we see articles and columns on the topic of Man-made Climate Change or Global Warming in the Gazette. They usually cover an event that is upcoming or has just occurred or a new report that has been issued. They always include warnings of the dangers humans face from projected warming and sea level rise. I usually just shake my head when I see them.

My undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas was a BA degree with a double major in Geography (the study of Planet Earth) and Anthropology (the study of humans). Both majors covered climate change. In my Geography coarse work I actually took a class on Climatology. While it didn’t make me an expert on all aspects of climates, it did introduce me to the various types of climates, where they could be found in the world and how they have changed over time. My main interests in Anthropology were North American Indians and North American Archeology. However I also took other courses which covered the development (evolution) of modern humans.

Most of the Anthropology courses included the impact of climate change and how humans adapted to it. I learned that there have been many changes to the world’s climate systems throughout the Earth’s life. One of the major changes in climate hit it’s peak around 20,000 to 25,000 years ago. That was when the last major glacial advance reached its peak expansion in North America. Since moving to Chillicothe I’ve learned that glacial advance reached as far south, in what is now Ohio, as Western Avenue. I also learned what we call Carlisle Hill is a ridge moraine. Moraines are large mounds of earth and rock created by the advancing glacier. In this case it was formed along the side of the glacier as it moved. It is much like the snow that mounds up along side your snow shovel when you push it through new fallen snow.

The last glacial advance was so significant that a huge volume of fresh water was frozen in the sheets of ice that extended from what is now Canada to what is now southern Ohio. Some estimate that sheet of ice was as much as one mile thick. There was so much water frozen in the glacier that the sea level dropped so much a land bridge from Asia to North America was exposed. That land bridge helped populate a previously unpopulated continent, North America. It is estimated that much of the continental shelf was also exposed during that time frame. The continental shelf is now under water and has been since the last glacier melted.

The period of major glacial advances and retreats has been going on for at least the last million years. In fact, what is now Ohio has been impacted by three major glacial advances and retreats during the last 600,000 years. The deposits left by the glaciers are discussed in a piece produced by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. You can find numerous articles on Ohio’s glaciers by doing a search on either “Ohio’s glaciers” or “Ohio’s Glacial Deposits”.

In addition to these severe changes in climate, there are less severe and more frequent changes in Earth’s climate. Two of them that have been well documented in Art, Literature, History and Science are the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age. The Little Ice Age ended around the middle of the 1800’s. That would have been 150 years ago when the major push regarding man-made global warming started. It is also about the time of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

So when the man-made global warming scare began to be pushed I became a skeptic. The main reason I was skeptical was the scare used a new chart of recent global temperature record that eliminated both the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age as its key piece of evidence. The chart was produced by Michael Mann and became known as the Hockey Stick chart. As someone familiar with the subject I wondered “How did a few new tree ring samples from eastern Russia eliminate the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age when they are both well documented in Art, Literature, History and SCIENCE?” However, Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick Chart became a key part of the UN’s climate report and movement.

In 2009 someone released thousands of emails that appeared to expose a major effort to push the theory of “man-made climate change” and suppress “skeptics” concerns. That release and the following discussion of it became known as “climategate”.

2019 is the year that the debate on man-made global warming and whether the new chart of recent climate history was an accurate depiction of actual climate change should have ended. That year Michael Mann refused a court order to turn over the underlying data used to create his chart so his chart could be verified. At question was which chart of recent climate history was accurate, Prof. Mann’s or Dr. Ball’s. (See above link to Hockey Stick Chart.) In August, 2019 the judge ruled that Prof. Mann’s liable suit against Dr. Ball should be dismissed and Prof. Mann was ordered to pay Ball’s court costs. The outcome of of this lawsuit also vindicates my skepticism regarding the UN’s IPCC hoax.

This court case and its controversy and conclusion have not been covered in the Chillicothe Gazette, yet it still covers articles regarding the man-made global warming hoax.

So if asked if I believe in Climate Change and Global Warming my answer would be “Of course! Earth’s climate has been constantly changing and the earth has warmed since I was young. But if you are asking if I believe that humans’ use of fossil fuels is causing the earth to warm and sea levels to rise and poses the greatest threat to humans, of course I don’t. If what is now Ohio has experienced changes in temperature large enough to cause massive sheets of ice called glaciers to advance and cover two thirds of its territory and then retreat three separate times in the last 600,000 years, why would I think that a minor increase in temperature since the end of a cold period known as the Little Ice Age isn’t part of naturally occurring climate change. It is pretty clear it is!

If you would like to learn more about actual climate change, the science behind the debate and the current man-made global warming hoax a great source of information is the SEPP website and weekly emails. I get their weekly emails. While there are some discussions that are too scientifically detailed for me to fully understand, it is a great source for many scientific discussions one can understand. I highly recommend it.

So my question is “When will the Gazette stop promoting this scientific hoax!”

The Associated Press and the 2020 Census

I’ve already written about Tom Purcell’s column in the Gazette regarding the 2020 Census. Since then I’ve come across two articles by Mike Schneider of the Associated Press. The first was in the August 31, 2020 Gazette titled “Census politicized in election year again”. The second appeared in the September 7, 2020 Gazette titled “Census Bureau must keep counting”. These aren’t the only articles on the census that have appeared in the Gazette this year, just the most recent that I’ve found.

August 31, 2020: “Census politicized in election year again” by Mike Schneider of the Associated Press

Just the fact that a journalist at the Associated Press is writing multiple articles on the 2020 Census can’t help but “politicize” something that should be non-political in nature. But the articles themselves show that Mr. Schneider seems to be approaching it from a political point of view.

This article addresses two main points about this year’s census. The first is whether people in the country illegally should not only be counted, but be used in determining the number of members of the U. S. House of Representatives a state receives. Mr. Schneider includes references to statements from individuals and groups that oppose a citizenship question and insist that individuals who are in our country illegally should be included for the determining a state’s share of the 435 representative. I’ve addressed the rational why that would be inappropriate in my previous blog regarding Tom Purcell’s column in the Sept. 3, 2020 Opinion section of the Gazette. The guarantee of equal representation for U. S, citizens argues against their position. Unfortunately the article doesn’t include comments from those supporting that position.

The second point is what some are calling the administrations effort to “…complete census a month early…”. They claim that it will result in an undercounting of minority communities. The fact of the matter is “Census officials asked for an extension of the end-of-the-year deadline to turn in numbers used for drawing congressional districts.” The end of the year deadline isn’t something that the Trump administration arbitrarily imposed, it has been a requirement of Censuses for years.

Another point Mr. Schneider makes is the fact that President Reagan’s administration refused to accept a “technical adjustment” to the count of minorities that some in the Census Bureau wanted to use because they felt the actual count of minorities didn’t properly represent their numbers in the country. A “technical adjustment” is a nice way of saying they wanted to increase the actual count of minorities to make it higher. Was their version of the “Technical adjustment” making the count more accurate? How could you know for sure. But it is certain that states with suspected higher than average minorities living in their state would be rewarded by the adjustment.

In each of these cases Mr. Schneider puts a positive light on those protesting the more conservative perspective and doesn’t give any opposing comments for those who believe the conservative positions are justified. Does that seem like fair journalism?

Sept. 7, 2020: “Census Bureau must keep counting” by Mike Schneider of the Associated Press

This is a short article that reports that a Federal Judge in San Jose, California has stopped the Census Bureau from “… following a plan that would have it winding down operations in order to finish the 2020 census at the end of September.” Again, the article gives no rational for why it might be necessary to end the counting as originally required and includes no comments from those opposing the continued counting.

As this topic is portrayed as being politicized, I think it is a valid question as to who is actually politicizing the 2020 Census count? Is it those who think the count should be an actual count, that it should be done by the required deadlines and that only the count of individuals in the country legally should be used to determine the number of U. S. Representatives a state should be awarded? Or are those who want illegal immigrants to impact apportionment of the House’s 435 members between the states and think “technical adjustments” should be used to make counts “more accurate” the ones who are making the 2020 Census more politicized?

Sept. 05, 2020: “Federal shutdown may be averted”

by Christel Hayes and Nicholas Wu of USA Today with contributions from the Associated Press

Saturday’s paper carried an article describing how House Speaker Pelosi and the Trump administration were undertaking negotiations to avert a federal government shutdown like the one that went for 35 days from December 2018 until January 2019. It goes on to explain some of the consequences of the last shut down and the concerns by some that another shut down at this time could have even more severe consequences.

So how would the shut down be averted? It would be averted by the Democrats and administration coming to agreement on a “continuing resolution”. A “CR”, as they are known in Washington, is a decision to avoid the normal budget process and instead allow spending to continue at current levels for a specified period of time. That timeframe is usually until after an election or other politically advantageous period. Unfortunately CRs have been much too common in recent years.

So if they want to by-pass the normal process, what is the normal process? The way our system of government is designed to work is for Washington to follow the following steps:

Step 1. The Congressional Budget Office releases a projection of what government spending and receipts will be for the coming ten years. This is released in January so that the White House’s Office of Management and Budgets can have time to produce their budget proposal and projections before it is required to be presented to Congress.

Step 2. The WH OMB releases it budget proposal outlining the legislative changes, if any, that would be required to adopt the president’s future plans. Again, the requirement is for the president’s budget to be presented to Congress early in the year so Congress can prepare and pass the necessary funding bills before the end of the start of the next fiscal year.

Step 3. The House of Representatives, which has primary responsibility for our nation’s fiscal well being, passes a framework from which individual budget bills will be developed.

Step 4. The House of Representatives passes individual budget bills and looks to the Senate for agreement.

Step 5. The Senate passes its own budget bills and compares them to those passed by the House.

Step 6: Negotiations take place between the House and Senate in order to agree on final budget bills.

Step 7. Once approved by Congress, the budget bills are presented to the President for signature or veto.

Once you see the steps, it is pretty clear that the process is well thought out and rational. So why are CRs necessary? They are necessary when the House and Senate don’t do their jobs!

Now that we understand the “normal budget process” what is wrong with an article that covers the fact that a CR is likely and a government shutdown is likely to be averted. The problem is there is no context for the reader to make any judgement from other than shutdowns are bad and CRs are good. But is a CR at this time a good thing?

What other context would be helpful? First off, some mention of the actual process that should be followed and an answer to why it wasn’t followed would be helpful. Secondly, some discussion of the current state of the nation’s financial situation would also be helpful. I’ve covered most of the first with the above outline of steps. As for the second, some discussion of the current financial crisis we’re currently facing might bring into question whether a “…deal that extend(s) government funding at the same levels they are operating at...” might not be in the best interests of the nation.

We will finish the current fiscal year with Gross Federal Debt of $27 trillion, up from $13.5 trillion in 2010. We will have a $3.3 trillion dollar deficit, after eleven years of successive deficits which have averaged nearly $750 billion per year.

So why do we have another CR near a presidential election. The House failed to do its job. It’s job would have been to set out the priorities it wants the undertake and to do so showing the impact of those priorities through calculations produced by the CBO. It looks like the leadership of the House felt it shouldn’t do what it is required to do. We don’t know why that’s the case, but we do know they didn’t pass the necessary budget bills that are required to fund the government.

What are the consequences of another CR? High levels of government spending and no chance for voters to hear how each party would bring our finances back under control. that is if it’s even possible to do that as large a financial hole Congress has allowed us to dig ourselves into!

How do we stop this fiscal madness is hard to see. Looking to candidates who set following the normal budget process and voting for them might be a good first step!

More on the Federal Government’s finances to come in future columns.

Sept. 6, 2020: Fox News Sunday on National Debt

While not an item from the Chillicothe Gazette, this is one of the most important topics our nation faces. Because of that, I thought it was important enough to cover.

During his interview with the U. S. Secretary of the Treasury (Steven Mnuchin), Bret Baier made a couple interesting statements regarding the level of our nation’s debt.

  • Our debt will be $27 trillion at the of fiscal year 2020.
  • The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimates that our Debt to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) will approach 100%.

In fact, I checked the CBO’s website and found their projections for the end of 2020 (and the following ten years). They are projecting a ratio value of 98.2% If you do the math, that would seem to indicate that they are projecting that our GDP will finish the fiscal year (9/30/2020) at more than $27 trillion. But they aren’t. They are projecting the GDP to finish the year at $20.6 trillion. That would seem to be a Debt to GDP ratio value in excess of 130%? Can both of his facts be true? What are we missing?

What are we missing is the fact that the CBO isn’t calculating the level of our Debt to GDP, but the level of only a portion of our debt, called Public Debt, to GDP. So what is the portion of our debt they aren’t including? It’s the portion that is owed to the various government trust funds. The largest of that debt is the amount owed to the Social Security Trust Fund at nearly $3 trillion dollars.

The Social Security Trust Fund does have a balance in it, BUT it has all been borrowed by the General Fund. That’s not a new thing, it has been going on since the beginning of the program. What the trust fund has in place of cash and investments are special government bonds. So the trust fund is full of government debt instruments that are only good as long as the federal government can afford to pay them off. In our current situation the federal government can only pay them off if it can continue to borrow the funds to do that.

So when did the CBO and WH OMB (White House Office of Management & Budget) start reporting our level of Public Debt to GDP rather than Gross Debt to GDP? I looked through my file of WH OMB Budget schedules and found the Public Debt to GDP was first used in their Table S-15 in the 2013 Budget. Prior to that no Debt to GDP ratio was shown.

In 2012 another new item appeared in WH OMB budgets. It is a item labeled “Primary deficit/surplus (-)”. I hope your reaction to seeing that was the same as mine. “What the heck is that?” The primary deficit is the budget deficit excluding net interest outlays. So the obvious questions are “Why would you calculate that? Isn’t net interest a real expense we have to contend with?”

President Obama’s first budget was his 2010 Budget projections. It showed a ten year projected deficit of $7 trillion dollars. His first budget was criticized for having overly optimistic values for the five key assumptions used in the budget projection process. So the 2011 Budget used more realistic values for the five assumptions, but the ten year projected deficit jumped up to $8.5 trillion. Suddenly the concern was the Obama/Biden team wasn’t taking our federal deficit and debt seriously. It wouldn’t be long until our Debt to GDP ratio would reach 100%, long held as the “point of no return”.

To counter that criticism the WH OMB and CBO introduced a new ratio in the 2012 Budget. It was the “primary deficit” or the deficit if you didn’t count Net Interest Outlays. Why would they create a ratio that excluded Net Interest outlays? Because our debt was increasing at an alarming rate and so was the interest expense. Along with that was the concern with our level of Debt to GDP . Gross Debt to GDP had reached 95.8% for fiscal year 2011.

The WH OMB’s 2013 Budget (released in early 2012) included a Debt to GDP ratio in the budget schedules for the first time in history, but rather than Gross (or total) Debt they used Public Debt. Many in Washington still refer to it as the Debt to GDP ratio though it only reflects a portion of our debt. Suddenly, by using Public Debt instead of using Gross Debt, our debt crisis was put off. Our Public Debt to GDP was only 70.3% at the end of 2012 (while our Gross Debt to GDP reached 100%). In fact our Gross Debt to GDP ratio value has exceeded 100% each of the last seven years, reaching 106.9% at the end of 2019. It now appears it will jump to over 130% at the end of 2020.

Over the last several years Democrats have told us there is nothing to worry about. In fact I attended a Senate Budget Committee hearing on our National Debt back in 2015. It appeared that the only Senator that had a real concern over the level of the nation’s debt was Sen. Johnson of Wisconsin. Sen. Sanders of Vermont was the ranking Democrat on the committee. His primary witness told us there was nothing to worry about since we had a much higher level of debt following WWII. Public Debt to GDP was 99.1% and Gross Debt to GDP was 111.1% at the end of fiscal year 1946. So the witness was correct in stating it had been higher. But what he forgot to tell the committee was the fact that during WWII over 80% of all spending was for National Defense. So we were able to dramatically reduce overall spending after WWII by having a significant cut in defense spending. In fact we went from a large deficit to a surplus in one year after the war ended. That was followed the next year by an increase in the surplus!

What he also didn’t tell the committee was the majority of spending that was driving the nation’s current deficits and increase in debt was a category of spending labeled “Payments for Individuals”. You can find information on it in WH OMB’s Historic Tables 11.1, 11.2 and 11.3. At the end of fiscal year 2019 ninety cents of every dollar collected by the federal government was spent on that category and that category doesn’t include the salaries of federal employees! (I’ll address that in a separate column.)

At the end of the greatest challenge the world has ever gone through (WWII) our Gross Debt to GDP ratio was 111.1% and now it will be over 130% and our Public Debt to GDP ratio was 99.1% and now it will exceed 100%. The obvious question is how do we stop it from increasing further!

Maybe the Senate Republicans were right in 1997 when they voted for a Balanced Budget Amendment. Maybe Democrats were wrong for voting against it. Sen. Torricelli (D-NJ) cast the deciding vote that defeated the amendment claiming it was no longer necessary?

Looking back, the only two items from the Republicans’ 1994 Contract With American that didn’t become law were:

  • Balanced Budget Amendment
  • Congressional Term Limits

Those were both opposed by most Democrats. Imagine if those had passed too!