Category Archives: Good Arguments

It’s all in the naming and how you say it

In clocks that are right twice a day news, Kevin Williamson at NRO has a nice observation about the way that the expression du jour ‘deep state’ has a breadth in contemporary  usage.  You have the positive valence now used by those who think that Washington civil servants are part of the resistance.  And you have the Sean Hannity-Rush Limbaugh version that takes the deep state to be a fifth column of bureaucrats hell-bent on undermining a legitimately elected President.

The great irony is that the term had a very different valence for liberals and libertarians only a few years ago.  Waaaaay back then, ‘deep state’ or ‘deep government’ was a term of abuse for the established role that government took in civic life.  Liberals thought that it was too cozy with the financial sector and with industry, and so few elections could turn back any of that.  Libertarians thought it had overreached with social programs, but it was too late to repeal them.

Once the term has such breadth, only context will provide you with any clarity as to what’s being meant by its usage.  Williamson makes analogy here to the term ‘neocon’ to help clarify — originally, it meant different kind of conservative, then it meant disaffected leftist-turned-conservative, and then it took on international-Jewish-conspiracy-world-war-hawk connotations.  To know what mud someone’s slinging with the word, you need a little more background.

But, now, the important part with the terms ‘neocon’ or ‘deep state’ is that they not only have an evaluative and expressive role, they also play explanatory roles in what we’re seeing.  And so with ‘neocon,’ the association of the neocons like Wolfowitz with the WTO was part of the sinister explanation for the Iraq War.  (And so, too many people went with the last interpretation of neocon.)  And  with the current ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories, Hannity and Limbaugh are using it to explain the Trump administration’s early political losses.

But Occam’s Razor is ready to trim the thicket with the latter.  When the own-goals are so clearly instances of incompetence, blaming a vast conspiracy of bureaucrats is really more evidence of incompetence than an alternative explanation. It’s like the suckiest kid on the team blaming the refs for every time he gets burned.  Or the kid who never does the reading or the homework and then complains that your lectures don’t make any sense… and that’s why he’s failing.

Williamson makes a nice closing observation that the naming here (and how its said) works as a bit of magical thinking:

There is an ancient superstition that to name something is to assert power over it. (The members of some ancient tribes kept their real names secret and had secondary names for public use.) But giving the figments of your imagination a name and an involved back-story doesn’t make them real. It just makes you nuts.
The crucial thing to keep in mind, however, is that in every one of these cases, we are identifying the work of institutions and individuals — they exist.  What is controversial here is whether they themselves are working with a deep and shadowy plan…  But, again, what can be explained by incompetence or laziness in politics will always win out.

Cautionary analogies

Democracies are fragile, and one of the worries about them is that the seeds for their overthrow are sewn and grown inside.  That's a thought as old as Plato (see Republic IX's son of the democratic man, the eventual tyrant), but it's the Romans who lived it fully and provided us with a model for it:  Julius Caesar.  Invocations of Caesar haunt American democracy, and one point of interest is that John Wilkes Booth invoked Brutus in the aftermath of his assassination of Lincoln.  The dangers of an imperial presidency has been a longstanding worry.

Kevin Williamson's essay in National Review Online has the same analogy at its core: Obama as Caesar.  Now, we've seen this trope before with the Obamacare concerns and with the general teaparty invocations of the blood of tyrants nourishing the tree of liberty.  But I think Williamson's point shouldn't be lumped with these.  His, I think, seems considerably more reasonable.  First, Williamson's concern is with the fact that Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen that was targeted for assassination.   Sure, under conditions of combat, we don't need to arrest and mirandize our opponents, but those we know are citizens and not in the midst of a shootout deserve some legal concern.  Yes, he was an al-Qaeda leader and planner.  Still a citizen.  Second, the Bush administration cleared the ground for both treating al-Qaeda operatives as combatants and as dialing back protections for citizens suspected of being in league with them.  This yielded the following:

Running with the ball we passed him, Obama and his administration now insist on the president’s right not only to order the assassination of U.S. citizens, but to do so in secret, without oversight from Congress, the public, or anybody else. Barack Obama today claims powers that would have made Julius Caesar blush.

A good deal of the work on this blog is devoted to picking out fallacious forms of these kind of arguments.  This time, I think it's appropriate.  Even if you think the President's decision was right, you must admit that it is a considerable extension of his power to trump the Fifth Amendment's requirement of due process.

Writing echo chambers

Double-dipping on the recent series of articles from Inside Higher Education.  In "The Facebook Mirror," Lisa Lebduska makes an interesting observation that the more you think your writing's audience is like you (especially holding similar beliefs about what you're writing about), the less likely you are to be explicit about your reasoning.  And as a consequence, the quality of your writing suffers.  On the one hand, it's good to preach to the choir every once in a while, but, on the other hand, without a devil's advocate around, it becomes pretty empty verbiage.  Lebduska sees this in spades with the writing on Facebook:

On Facebook we never think outside the four walls of the self, and we need never imagine readers different from us. We expect neither argument nor curiosity nor challenge. Just a thumbs up or down.

This is an interesting observation, but  a few things.  I've kept a journal off and on since I was in high school.  My audience for the journal is me.  Usually me 5-10 years down the road.  It's an  exercise.  I don't imagine myself all too different from me when making entries, but but I do expect some skepticism.  So how is facebooking different from journal entries? Facebooking, according to Lebduska, doesn't even have that critical distance.

Teachers spend years working to broaden students' intellectual worlds beyond their own virtual backyards. We challenge them to discover ideas that come from individuals who might be very unlike them; people they would never conceive of friending, or if asked to friend would be more than likely to ignore

So Facebook backyardifies writing (my term!).  That said, I think there are some subfields in philosophy that function similarly.  Elsewhere, I've called them "societies of mutual verbal petting" (Forthcoming in Philosophy and Rhetoric 44:3).  In light of this, Lebduska does make a nice point at the end:

The ability to imagine a perspective other than our own — the idea of an audience consisting of curious minds rather than adoring fans — defines our most effective writers. . . . If in reading their words we find that our young people have no sense of others beyond and/or different from themselves, we should supply them with that sense.

I'm not sure what Lebduska's suggestion amounts to in its specifics, but is it that we should be like essay graders in making responses to Facebook walls?  I, by the way, have opted out of facebook — maybe it is my duty as a blogger and commenter on other blogs?  It certainly seems that blog comments do that already.  Is there a Facebook norm against criticism? It's certainly the case in the societies of mutual verbal petting!

Not All Rhetorical Questions Deserve Equal Consideration

As we learn from the media, we must try always to criticize both sides of an issue equally. Now, this will not be the full parity treatment–I'd have to find a billboard from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, or New England Anti-Vivisection Society or another Anti-Vivisection organization. And I'm sure there are many fallacies to be identified in all sorts of protest signage as well as other nonsense. But, as always this isn't about scoring points, but understanding how poor reasoning infects our public discourse. So, in that spirit, let's examine a billboard from Vegan advocacy organization Mercy For Animals.


[Source is MFA's blog]

Now, they're a bit more explicit in drawing the practical conclusion compared to the FBR bill-board, which I previously commented on.

C You should choose vegetarianism.

The premise is only a question, but the question presumably is meant to prompt us to conclude that there is no good reason to kill one animal for food while lavishing the other with love. Stated as the premise that they hope you will grant

P1: There is no good reason to eat some animals but treat others like members of the family based simply on species membership.

P2: In the absence of a good reason to eat some animals, we ought not to eat them.

I doubt that we would call this a great argument, but it isn't an awful one (and I'm not certain I have the best reformulation of it here). Presumably carnists will argue that the premises are false, either by arguing that there is a good reason to differentiate between dogs and pigs and thereby justify eating one of them, or deny that a good reason is needed because they're just animals.

But, the important point here is that the billboard itself is of an entirely different logical character than the Foundation for Biomedical Research that we looked at previously. Not all rhetorical questions are logically equivalent.

Here's another MFA bill-board that, it seems to me, is also logically respectable. I'll leave the reconstruction up to you.

Note: I was expecting to find some easy pickings over at PeTA's website, given their reputation for hyperbole and attention-seeking. ( Yet, all of the four "Outdoor PSA's" that focus on animals in research labs seem to avoid egregious fallacies like in the FBR billboard. I'll have to dig a little deeper.

Your wife or a snake?

Critics of anti-speciesist arguments, like presumably the Foundation for Biomedical Research in my previous post, often fall back onto simplified hypothetical moral situations in order, typically, to elicit an inconsistency in the opponent's belief sets or between their beliefs and actions. These arguments typically take the form of asking "your dog or your child?" On the basis of the inconsistency, there are a number of possible consequences that they might wish to suggest or draw, including:

a) Opponent's anti-speciesist view is false.

b) Opponent's anti-speciesist view is weakened.

c) Opponent is an unreliable judge of the moral issue due to the incoherence of their belief set.

d) Opponent is an unreliable judge of the moral issue due to hypocrisy.

As we've commented before, these Subjunctive Tu Quoque arguments are often fallacious, though sometimes they have some probative significance (e.g., by dialectically shifting the burden of argument). But, there is another case of argument that looks like the Subjunctive Tu Quoque, but operates differently.

P1: Opponent S asserts p, either generally or in situation A, on moral ground U.

P2: But, opponent S would assert ~p, in situation B.

C3: Opponent S should not hold p on moral ground U either generally or in situation A.

Here's an example from philosopher Carl Cohen.

"Tom Regan enjoys outdoor activities, and we can well imagine that on some cross-country hike a child of his may be bitten by one of the Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes abundant in those North Carolina woods, or a cottonmouth, or copperhead perhaps, or during a winter holiday in Martinique his wife may be struck by the fer-de-lance, a snake whose bite is often fatal if not swiftly treated with an antivenin. Happily, there is treatment readily available for such excruciatingly painful bites, an antivenin that is waiting for the Regan family or any family in need of it, at any good hospital in North Carolina or the Caribbean. But would Tom Regan's child be allowed to receive it? Here is the problem. The needed treatment for the bites of the family of pit vipers is Antivenin (crotalidae) Polyvalent-serum globulin obtained from the blood of healthy horses that have been injected with snake venoms to cause of the development, in their blood, of the needed antibodies. Those horses have been used without their consent, with some pain to them. But, if the antivenin is not administered quickly, children bitten by rattlesnakes (or other pit vipers) will suffer terribly, may lose an arm or leg, or even die." (Carl Cohen and Tom Regan, The Animal Rights Debate, Rowman and Littlefield, 2001. p 242.)

Here Carl Cohen is following out what he takes to be the consequence of Tom Regan's animal right's position. I don't think that he is actually arguing against Regan's view here, instead he is setting out the practical stakes of Regan's position before examining "with a very skeptical eye the philosophical arguments by which it is claimed that 'animal rights' are established" (p.243).

But, one might formulate an argument as follows:

P1: Tom Regan asserts that animals have rights not to be used for human purposes generally.

P2: But Tom Regan would/should assert that humans have the right to use animals (horses) in situation B.

C1: Tom Regan should not hold that animals have rights not to be used for human purposes generally.

or, C2: Tom Regan's judgment in P1 is unreliable.

This argument might have a similar structure as the standard reconstruction of the Socratic Elenkhos articulated by Gregory Vlastos, an instance of the Argument from Inconsistency. Though in the Elenkhos, we would add some additional premises to which the interlocutor agrees that entail C1, or for Socrates (on Vlastos' interpretation) the stronger claim that the original belief (animals have rights not to be used for human purposes generally) is false (Vlastos, Gregory "The Socratic Elenchos" Journal of Philosophy 79 (11), 1982, 711-714).

But, there is an important difference between arguments of this sort and the reconstructed implicit argument of FBR's billboard. In the case of Cohen's hypothetical, the hypothetical is an instance of the principle in question. In the case of FBR's billboard, the hypothetical is not. To put it simply:

Cohen: Using horses to produce anti-venom is a counter-example to the principle that animals have rights not to be used.

FBR: Saving a little girl rather than a rat is not an instance of the general category of using animals in research.

So, FBR cannot, I think, defend the implicit argument by modelling it on an implicit Elenctic argument. Conclusions about the use of animals in research is a non-sequitur from the assumed answer to the billboard's question.

Ron Paul’s analogical reasoning

In the comments on the previous post, NashvilleBrian suggested we take a look at Ron Paul's argument that the SEAL raid to kill OBL was 'absolutely not necessary.'  It all sounded very much like the Ron Paul who impressed me back in '08 — insisting that we respect national boundaries for sovereignty, cooperate with other governments, and so on.  Of course, the folks at FOX News are going nuts about it.  I was curious, and I took a look.

In an interview with Simon Conway (the excerpt posted here), Paul made two arguments for pursuing OBL in Pakistan in a different way. 

The first argument was that Pakistan is an ally and a sovereign country.  It is a serious breach of international law to show up with a military force inside of another country without their knowledge — even if we are subsidizing their military.  Paul makes this point with an analogy:

I think respect for the rule of law and world law and international law. What if he'd been in a hotel in London?

This seems reasonable, if only to show that, assuming we'd balk at sending choppers into the outskirts of London, the trouble is to say what's the relevant difference.  Excepting the thought that folks have been expressing concerns that Pakistan hadn't really been pursuing OBL. (I'll come to that at the end of the post.) And of course, if we had the intel and gave it to the Pakistanis and ran backup, that'd done the job, right?  Again, I don't know, but it's on those who are reacting so strongly to Paul to explain why that's a bad plan.  Not to just go crazy and say he's not fit for the presidency.   Another thing to address is Paul's second analogy — that between the pursuit of OBL and KSM.  With Kalid Sheikh Mohammed, we relied on the Pakistanis to apprehend him.  They got him just fine. Here's Paul:

I think things could have been done somewhat differently.  I would suggest the way they got Khalid [Sheikh] Mohammed. We went and cooperated with Pakistan. They arrested him, actually, and turned him over to us, and he's been in prison. Why can't we work with the government?

In that case, Pakistan showed themselves to be a reliable ally and capable terrorist-hunting government.  So what gives?  Have the facts on the ground changed in a significant way since then?  Perhaps they have — KSM was caught on Musharraf's watch, and there is now a very different government.  But is that relevant?  Again, I don't know, but isn't it the job of those criticizing Paul to explain where the error is?  Instead we get stuff like this:

"If there is any doubt that Ron Paul should not even get near the Oval Office, even on a tour of the White House, he has just revealed it," Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips said on his website. "For a Congressman to say the raid to kill the man who is one of the greatest mass murderers of Americans in history was, 'not necessary,' is simply nuts."

Well, at least it is clear that Phillips disagrees with Paul.  Not at all clear why.  Sigh.

Now, a point about Paul's last analogy.  I'm not convinced by it.  Pakistan was cooperative with KSM, but that was still pretty close in time to 9/11, and they haven't exactly been cooperative before.  And especially with OBL. As noted by Ed Morrisey at Hot Air, the Pakistani Intelligence Service provided the intel for Bill Clinton's strike on OBL, but they also tipped him that it was coming.  Oh, and it's not like they've done a bang-up job chasing him down in the meantime.  Again, that's not a reason to not respect their sovereignty, but it does weaken the reasons for Paul's confidence that cooperation would have worked.

Ad hominems and drawing conclusions about character

Ad hominem abusive fallacies are fallacies of relevance.  The basic scheme for the fallacy type is:

P1: S holds that p

P2: S has some vice, X

C1:  Therefore, p is false (or unacceptable).

With my informal logic classes, I have the regular joke: Just because Brenda is a heavy drinker, that doesn't mean that she doesn't know much about politics — She may be a heavy drinker because she knows politics!  That gets lots of laughs, believe me.  But now, consider an argument of a different form, but composed of similar propositions:

P3: p is demonstrably false (i.e., there is sufficient and easily accessible evidence that p is false)

P4: S holds that p, despite P3

C2: Therefore, S has some vice X (where X = vices from simple stupidity to willful ignorance to suffers from ideological thinking)

Importantly, the argument has very similar claims as the ad hominem abusive, but it is of a different form — we are reasoning to S's vice, not from it.  Now, it is clear that this second kind of argument can be made hastily (as there is a big difference between being wrong and being stupid — that's the Fallacy of No Reasonable Alternatives, a species of false dilemma), but it does seem right that P3 and P4 are relevant to C2.  This second form of argument is one either (a) addressed to some third party about S or (b) addressed directly to S in order to request that S reform how she performs in argument regarding p (and perhaps other issues).

With the theoretical apparatus assembled, let's look at Steve Chapman's column, "Why Birtherism is Here to Stay," over at 

There has never been a shred of persuasive evidence that Obama was born anywhere but Hawaii. But thanks to rampant paranoia and widespread credulity, the myth of his foreign origins gained currency among many people who should know better.

What is Chapman's explanation for this phenomenon — people who believe things that they should know better to not?

A poll taken after the release of his birth certificate showed 18 percent of those who have seen it still aren't convinced.  Something about this president impels many people to accept anything that is said about him, as long as it's unfavorable. . . .   Birthers don't dislike Obama because they think he was born abroad. They think he was born abroad because they dislike him. People of this bent don't proceed from facts to a conclusion. They prefer to reach a conclusion and then scrounge for any facts — or "facts" — that support it.  For them, being told Obama is a natural-born American is like being told he's a loving father and a loyal friend. They won't buy it because it doesn't confirm what they want to be true.

The logician and pragmatist C.S. Peirce called these sorts of patterns of thought 'pseudoreasoning,' and it looks very much like a form of rationalizing.  And the key to the effectiveness of these strategies of thought is that the people making errors with them are not exposed to the consequences of being wrong.  If you pseudoreason your way to believing that you can fly, you pay the consequences.  But if you pseudoreason your way to believing that the President of the United States is a Muslim Marxist AntiChrist, you make lots of friends (and if you stop believing them, you lose those friends).

This is surprising only if you think of political views as a matter of logical reasoning. For many people, they really aren't. They're a way of indulging emotional impulses without suffering painful consequences. . . . [I]f thinking Obama is a foreigner brings you closer to people you like, you come out ahead. Birthers would rather be wrong than be divided from their allies. So the fiction that Obama was born in Kenya will endure, and many Americans will hold fast to a ridiculous article of faith that has been conclusively refuted.

The thing is that this does amount to calling Birthers credulous, ideological, and cognitively blind.  Chapman forgot one thing more for his piece: directing readers to the comments for this piece!

Arguments from Fidelity

Previously on the NonSequitur, I'd reconstructed the core arguments of Steve Gimbel's innovative and rhetorically powerful "Open Letter to Students."  Overall, there are three arguments not to plagiarize: (1) the moral argument: it's theft, it's lying; (2) the practical argument: it's a bad gamble; and (3) the argument from fidelity: in plagiarizing, the student breaks a bond of trust with the teacher (and one the teacher has upheld).

The trouble is that arguments from fidelity are considered fallacy forms.  They may either be a sub-class of arguments from pity or at least they are considered in the same family as arguments from pity and the other emotive-expressive argument forms that generally fail relevance tests.  (E.g., arguments from outrage, wishful thinking, arguments from envy, etc.)  Additionally, arguments from fidelity also work on a person's self-identification as a member of some group or other, and so they rely on the similar forms of reasoning as ad populum arguments.  The rough class of affections these arguments key on are: the desire to belong, the desire to see oneself as loyal and constant, the desire to be proud of one's ties.  Some examples:

A1: You're a Titans fan. How could  you criticize Jeff Fisher like that?

A2: Your job in this organization is to off the snitches, so you owe it to us to nail anyone who's squealing.

The trouble with both A1 and A2 are that the fidelity the person addressed by them has to these organizations underdetermines what that person's supposed to do.  With A1, anyone familiar with the NFL knows that being a fan of a team means that you find yourself having more critical things to say about your own coach than you do about other teams' coaches.  A2 works on loyalty a little differently, as here deviating would be breaking the bond with the organization.  But that is the right thing to do (the problem, of course is that someone will fill your position and likely come to murder you, but that's a different issue).  The point is that A1 and A2 show two different ways that arguments from loyalty can fail. Here's a basic schema for the arguments:

P1: You are a member of X

P2: If you are a member of X, you have an obligation do A (as an expression of your loyal membership in X)

Therefore, you should do A

The problem with A1 is that P2 is false in its case.  The problem with A2 is that even though P2 is true, the obligation to A does not trump the moral reasons not to A (in this case, A=murder).  So the conclusion does not follow. 

Back to Gimbel's argument.  Here's the reconstruction:

P1: You (student) are a member of this student-teacher relationship.

P2: If you are a (student) member of this relationship, you have an obligation to turn in non-plagiarized work. (or: refrain from plagiarizing…)

C; Therefore, you should not plagiarize. Plagairizing is a failure of loyalty to this relationship.

Two ways arguments from fidelity can fail are, I think, in A1 and A2 fashion.  I think Steve's argument passes these tests.  It passes the A1 test, because P2 is true in Steve's case.  Syllabi, honor codes, and things like that make it so it's clear what a student's role is.  It passes the A2 test, because there are no moral reasons that trump the transmission of obligations of group membership to what one ought to do.  In fact, because of the moral argument against plagiarizing, the support for the conclusion is strengthened, not weakened (as with A2).

Arguments from loyalty place a prima facie obligation on others, and we can recognize those obligations in the shame we'd feel were we not to live up to those obligations.  That's what make these emotional arguments.  But their emotionality need not make them fallacious.  They are fallacies when they either proceed from false presumptions about what one's obligations are as a loyal X or from the thougth that even if one has prima facie obligations to X to do A, they are always ultima facie oblligations to do A.  In Gimbel's case, he's made neither error.  His case, then, aggregative.  The moral, practical, and fiduciary arguments converge on the same conclusion. 

A minor spot in our debates

The Post has two people who write on the economy, George Will and Robert Samuelson.  Both of them are conservatives.  Both of them stink at it.  Not long ago Samuelson argued that investing in rail transit would be a waste of money, because it serves so little of the country.  He forgot to mention such notions as population density, etc.  

Today he writes about health care.  In classic Samuelson fashion, he argues that controlling costs is somehow logically impossible:

Americans generally want three things from their health-care system. First, they think that everyone has a moral right to needed care; that suggests universal insurance. Second, they want choice; they want to select their doctors — and want doctors to determine treatment. Finally, people want costs controlled; health care shouldn't consume all private compensation or taxes.

Appealing to these expectations, Obama told Americans what they want to hear. People with insurance won't be required to change plans or doctors; they'll enjoy more security because insurance companies won't be permitted to deny coverage based on "pre-existing conditions" or cancel policies when people get sick. All Americans will be required to have insurance, but those who can't afford it will get subsidies.

As for costs, not to worry. "Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan," Obama said. He pledged to "not sign a plan that adds one dime to our [budget] deficits — either now or in the future." If you believe Obama, what's not to like? Universal insurance. Continued choice. Lower costs.

The problem is that you can't entirely believe Obama. If he were candid — if we were candid — we'd all acknowledge that the goals of our ideal health-care system collide. Perhaps we can have any two, but not all three.

Baring the fictional–yes fictional–scenario where you get to chose your own doctor and your own care (your insurance company does so long as you "qualify," which means so long as you don't get sick), every other industrialized democracy in the world has solved this problem.  They get more than we do for half of the cost.  That's just true folks.  As Obama has argued over and over, one problem we suffer from here in our capitalist paradise is a lack of competition in health insurance.  There is simply no incentive to deliver it cheaper.  So you can have all three indeed.  We should have all three.  If we can't get all three, we will suck.

For contrast, here is something Nicholas Kristof got right:

After Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans, eight years ago on Friday, we went to war and spent hundreds of billions of dollars ensuring that this would not happen again. Yet every two months, that many people die because of our failure to provide universal insurance — and yet many members of Congress want us to do nothing?

Here, by the way, is Samuelson's view on the affordability of the Iraq war:

Yes, that column made big mistakes. The war has cost far more than I (or almost anyone) anticipated. Still, I defend the column's central thesis, which remains relevant today: Budget costs should not shape our Iraq policy. Frankly, I don't know what we should do now. But in considering the various proposals — President Bush's "surge," fewer troops or redeployment of those already there — the costs should be a footnote. We ought to focus mostly on what's best for America's security. 

He is referring to a 2002 column where he argued we could "afford" the Iraq war, a war which, by the way, would cost more than any health care fix (I can't find the original article on the Post's website).  And indeed, who can disagree with this closing remark on that column?

But I am certain — now as then — that budget consequences should occupy a minor spot in our debates. It's not that the costs are unimportant; it's simply that they're overshadowed by other considerations that are so much more important. We can pay for whatever's necessary. If we decide to do less because that's the most sensible policy, we shouldn't delude ourselves that any "savings" will rescue us from our long-term budget predicament, which involves the huge costs of federal retirement programs. Just because the war is unpopular doesn't mean it's the source of all our problems. 

A minor spot, unless it's health care.

Can’t spare a square

Paul Krugman is perplexed, and rightly so I'd say, over the claim (made by some in the Obama administration) that we cannot investigate (and therefore prosecute) torture because we have too much on our plate right now–an economy in the tank, health care to reform, energy policies to write, etc.  Krugman says:

What about the argument that investigating the Bush administration’s abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true — even if truth and justice came at a high price — that would arguably be a price we must pay: laws aren’t supposed to be enforced only when convenient. But is there any real reason to believe that the nation would pay a high price for accountability?

For example, would investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let’s be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?

Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job — which he’s supposed to do in any case — and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.

I don’t know about you, but I think America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.

Seems right to me.  But I think the real problem lies with the media.  I don't think they'd be able to sustain focus on the torture investigations (which I earnestly hope for) and the pooping habits of Obama's dog.  I don't think they can spare the people.