US Foreign Aid

One of the big news stories yesterday centred on the Trump administration’s budget outline that would expand US defence spending by 9%, or $54 billion. That is quite a lot of money. More worrying, however, was the draft’s directive that it be accompanied by equal spending cuts in neither security nor entitlement programmes like Social Security and Medicare. Nor, obviously, the trillions allocated for mandatory spending, e.g. debt repayment.

White House officials—worth noting of the Trump-despised anonymous type that I suppose that only matters if reporting unflattering news—declined to get into specifics, but pointed out foreign aid as an area likely to receive massive cuts.

Problem is, foreign aid is one of the smallest segments of the federal budget. How small? Well, let’s segue into today’s post—see how smooth that was—from the Washington Post. The article dates from October, but was just brought to my attention to one of my mates.

Foreign aid spending is a small fraction of the budget
Foreign aid spending is a small fraction of the budget

Beyond this graphic that leads the piece, the Post presents numerous cartograms and other graphics that detail spending patterns. Hint, there is a pattern. But those patterns could also make it difficult to slash said spending.

The reason foreign aid spending is important is that it ties nicely into that concept of soft power. No surprise that over 120 retired generals and admirals told Congress that spending on diplomacy and foreign aid is “critical to keeping America safe”.

But for now this remains a budget outline sent to federal agencies to review. The actual budget fight is yet to come. So I’m sure this won’t be the last time we look at this topic here on Coffeespoons.

Credit for the piece goes to Max Bearak and Lazaro Gamio.

Marine Le Pen’s Chances

Last Friday the Economist published this article about the odds of Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front party, winning the French presidential election in April. You may recall I focused on other things last Friday. So today we have this graphic.

Without a majority of the vote, the top two vote earners move to a second round
Without a majority of the vote, the top two vote earners move to a second round

But this morning news broke about new allegations over fraudulent claims by Le Pen and the National Front. This, after claims of fraud against Fançois Fillon and some unhelpful remarks about Algeria from Emmanuel Macron, could be enough to make the French presidential election a complete toss up.

But for now we just wait to see if the rise of populist nationalism continues.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s graphics department.

UK By-election Results in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central

Labour’s collapse in Copeland in particular is comically bad, but this Friday indulge me in a non-comedic post. Instead, Thursday night we had the results for the by-elections in Stoke and Copeland, two long-held Labour Party constituencies.

Generally speaking in a by-election, the government of the UK can expect to see its vote share decrease if not altogether lose seats. Consequently Labour, as the party of the opposition, should have been expected to hold its two seats and increase its vote share.

Well Labour did win in Stoke, but its majority shrank by half. That’s not so good. And then in Copeland, the bottom sort of fell out. The charts I put together using AP data show what in Copeland was an historic win for the Tories. I could get into the hows and the whys, but you’re best off to go read a British politics site for that. But…something something Corbyn.

Look at those Lib Dems, is that a rebound I see?
Look at those Lib Dems, is that a rebound I see?

Scottish Independence?

I was having a conversation with a mate the other night about what Brexit means for Scottish independence. This mate, however, is an American. Because when American politics are depressing and nonsensical, we turn to British pol—wait, never mind.

Despite the overall UK vote to leave the European Union, Scotland (and London, and Northern Ireland) voted overwhelmingly to remain. But since part of the whole vote no to independence thing was remaining part of the EU thing, shouldn’t Scotland now be well positioned for IndyRef2?

I read this article from the Guardian back in January and meant to share it with you all, but I somehow forgot about it. So at long last, it turns out no, not so much. The whole thing is worth a read; it uses YouGov survey data to break out voters into different camps. And what sort of nails the argument is this graphic.

About that independence…
About that independence…

There are four/five groups of Brexit/IndyRef1 voters that then get sorted into two/three IndyRef2 results (yes, no, maybe I don’t know?). And what you can see is that yes, a significant number of those who voted to Remain in the EU, but voted no to Scottish independence would now vote for independence. But, an almost equal number of those who voted to Remain and also voted for Scottish independence would now vote against Scottish independence. In effect, these two voter movements are cancelling out any potential gains for a future Scottish independence vote.

Credit for the piece goes to the YouGov graphics department.

Voting on Trump’s Cabinet

Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor, may have broken the law by talking to the Russian ambassador about Americans sanctions on Russia before Trump took office. One can imagine the furore surrounding the man and the post. However, the post is not confirmed by the Senate, but is appointed by the president. But how has the Cabinet taken shape thus far? Well the New York Times is keeping tracking with this graphic on how senators have voted.

The more controversial picks are on the left, with the more no votes.
The more controversial picks are on the left, with the more no votes.

Credit for the piece goes to Wilson Andrews.

To Visit or Not to Visit

Well we’re less than a full two weeks into the Trump administration and oh how he has upset people. So much so that after being offered a state visit to the United Kingdom, the people of the UK drafted and are signing a petition to attempt to prevent Trump from visiting the UK.

This map from the Guardian, screenshot below, looks at how the signatures are distributed across the UK.

Who would prefer him not to visit?
Who would prefer him not to visit?

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian’s graphic department.

How Did Obamacare Change Our Healthcare?

We are counting down the days until President Obama steps aside. And shortly thereafter his signature work, the Affordable Care Act, may be repealed. But looking back, what is the legacy of the first few years under Obamacare? Besides the obvious death panels, of course. Well FiveThirtyEight took a look. And in this graphic, we see simple line charts. But what I really like is the attention that went into the titling/labelling. The titles draw you down through the story, explaining just what you are looking at.

How have things changed?
How have things changed?

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

Diversity in the 115th Congress

Well, we have arrived at 2017. We all know the big political story in the executive branch. But we also saw elections in the legislative branch. But how different will the 115th Congress look from the 114th? The Wall Street Journal took a look at that in an article.

Congressional diversity
Congressional diversity

The article’s graphic does a nice job showing the two different compositions. But if we are truly interested in the growth, we could use a line chart to better showcase the data. So what did I do last night? I made that chart. But as I was playing with the data I saw some numbers that stood out for me. So I compared the proportion of minorities in the original graphic to their proportion of the US national population, per Census Bureau data.

Redesigning the original graphic
Redesigning the original graphic

The line charts, broken out into the House vs. the Senate and then into the two parties, do a really good job of showing how the growth is not equally distributed between the two parties. And the reverse of that is that it shows how one party has failed to diversify between the two congresses.

The 115th Congress might be more diverse than ever. But it has a long way to go.

Credit for the original piece goes to the Wall Street Journal graphics department.

The Trump Organisation Organisation Chart

Well Christmas is over so now for some of us, it’s time to go back to work. Those of you enjoying your time off through the new year, well…enjoy it.

Today’s piece is from the New York Times and explores the structure of Donald Trump’s organisation. A second graphic within the piece then details just what the various parts of the organisation actually do. I found the whole article to be a nice insight into an organisation that will likely be ever more in the news spotlight.

Who runs what
Who runs what

Credit for the piece goes to Troy Griggs and Karen Yourish.

The Electoral College

Well today we elect the president of the United States. Wait! you say, did we not just do that a few weeks ago?

Not really, no.

In the run up to the election, I and others saw the possibility that this election could result in a gap between the national popular vote and the electoral college vote. And people think that unfair. Consequently I decided to start working on a series of graphics to help explain the system. But before I could finish, the Washington Post published this piece that I think does a strong job. So, I am going to point you there instead.

The United States is not a democracy, but a federal, democratic republic. Though that may smack of wordsmithery, it is an important distinction. We are a democratic republic in that we elect people to represent us, we do not directly vote on matters of government. And then that federal bit. The United States was formed by sovereign states, i.e. the colonies and other independent republics like Texas and (sort of) California. Others were territories belong to sovereign states that we acquired through negotiation, e.g. the Louisiana territory and Florida. In short, the United States is not a unitary state ruled by an all-powerful central government. The central government only has the authority granted to it by the states and territories entering the union.

States are intended to be equal, but the democratic republic bit means the people need to have their say. So the federal House of Representatives gets a set number of seats divided proportionally by population (as determined by the US Census) while the Senate represents all states equally with senators. The House is elected by the people every two years and thus is more in tune with national public sentiment. The Senate serves as the more deliberative body tempering perhaps overly reactionary House legislation. It also serves to represent the interests of the state governments. Initially, you did not even vote for senators. Those were chosen by your state governments, often the state legislature. (I will save that topic for another day.)

The electoral college of 538 members comes from each state’s House delegation and its two senators. And because this is a federal, i.e. state-led, republic, each state determines how to divvy up their votes. Most states do winner-take-all. Two, Maine and Nebraska, allocate them based on who wins the House districts and then an additional two (from the number of senators) to the overall state winner.

That very complicated system was designed to ensure that states with smaller populations are not summarily outvoted and overruled by the largest of states. This initially helped the smaller states in the Northeast like Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Delaware, but also the slave states like Georgia. In 2016, this means that the states of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains receive overrepresentation at the expense of the larger states like California, Texas, New York, and even my Pennsylvania.

The graphics from the Washington Post do a great job of showing not just how states today are over- or under-represented, but how that has changed since 1960. That is an important date given the Voting Rights Act that attempted to break down systemic injustices against minorities, particular blacks, in elections.

This small multiple map of the United States shows representation changes over time. Really well done.
This small multiple map of the United States shows representation changes over time. Really well done.

Is the electoral college “fair”? If this was a unitary republic, no. I doubt anyone would or could argue that point. But the United States is not and was not meant to be a unitary republic. We are a collection of sovereign states that grant power to a federal government. So in that sense, the electoral college is a fair, albeit not perfect, system that seeks to reallocate electoral power from high population states to low population states.

Credit for the piece goes to Denise Lu.