Feb 2, 2004

War is God's Way of Teaching Americans Geography -or- No Child Left Behind, Revisited

Violent debate continues over the origins of the "War is... geography" truism. Was it comedian/actor/producer/director Paul Rodriguez or writer/journalist/cynic Ambrose Bierce?

A mystery indeed. But that is not our concern today.

Today we are interested in its implications for the US budget. Now before you get all excited - or, conversely, too comfortable - don't expect much stinging wit and insightful political and economic commentary here... I'll leave that to my more persuasive friends. Nope, what I'm offering today is just a few numbers. Food for thought, as they say. Shall we begin?

"American Defense Budget Sees Big Increase in 2005," or words to that effect, was a subheader on the Yomiuri paper that stared up at my groggy head from the doorstep this morning. This under a headline about 2004 bringing the US' worst fiscal deficit ever.

What's that? Increase in defense spending? I thought we just injected another $80 billion for our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. How much more could our brave fighting men need?

Apparently 7% more, for that's the number that's floating around the Web these days.

Okay, now that's a nice single-digit number. Conservative. If you're gonna increase spending in these crazy times. "But up 7% from WHAT to WHAT?" I wonder. And is that really EVERYTHING?

The answer to the second question appears to be NO. This article says that the nearly $402 billion defense budget for fiscal 2005 is needed for "a raft of costly weapons and programs... but would not include costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan." Instead, the boys are expected to ask for another $50 billion later in the year to support those two theatres.

But I digress. We were talking about the 2005 budget here, right? Not those teensy-weensy numbers that get tacked on later.

Didn't the article also mention Department of Energy spending that would also be used for defense programs? This is so confusing.

The actual numbers, available in downloadable bite-sized PDF budget chunks on the Government Printing Office website, aren't much clearer to your average joe. Especially since an overhaul of the budget layout around 2003 saw the introduction of new departments (Homeland Security), old sections under new headings, and lotsa purdy pictures.

Now I'm just like the next guy - I like my budgets packed with color photos. But I tried my darndest not to grow distracted from the numbers. Here's what I could find:

Defense certainly is up, to a 2005 budget of $401.7 billion from a 2004 budget of around $380 billion. Just for comparison, I looked at the 2000 budget. Defense, $281.6 billion, with an estimate of $320 for 2004.

That same 2000-2005 interval also saw the creation of Homeland Security - operating to the tune of $28 billion in 2003 and with a 2005 budget of $33.8 billion. And Energy is up from $2.8 billion in 2000 to $24.3 billion in 2005; sure enough, a major chunk of that is related to nuclear weapons programs.

Again for comparison, and on a hunch, I peeked at environmental spending. In 2000, the budget for protection of natural resources and the environment was $23.8 billion. In 2005? The EPA is allotted $7.8 billion.

So we can see where priorities lie, and we get the picture that this 7% increase for defense isn't coming entirely out of thin air. Some departments obviously suffer in the process.

Who else gets shafted? Oh, right. I was going to tie this in to education. The Department of Education budget in 2004 was something like $53 billion. Well, $57.3 billion in 2005 is definitely a move in the right direction. Kudos.

Both of these figures, however, are less than the $59.5 billion spent in 2003, which in turn is lower than the $65 billion budgeted for 2002. So before we start patting ourselves on the back, let's remember the increases are relative. Incidentally, in 2002 the administration was proposing an optimistic $70.6 billion in education spending for 2005.

No Child Left Behind, indeed! The conclusion I draw from this, in my naive faith in our leaders' best intentions, is that there must simply be fewer children now.

Of course, if we send them all off to battle...

How many of our soldiers could have identified Baghdad - much less Afghanistan - on a map before 2001? Heck, how many Americans could have?

Perhaps war is the most effective way to teach geography in a country where the east coast and the west coast aren't even aware of anything in-between. In that sense, I guess there are benefits to having a religious man as our Commander in Chief.


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