Category Archives: False Cause

Diagnosis: Evil

To most people, elections are complicated.  Not so to some pundits.  Enter Gerson:

By the summer of 2007, the Republican presidential candidate most closely identified with the war, John McCain, was in serious trouble. Moderates and independents no longer seemed impressed by the fierce, lonely advocate of what many called "escalation." Political observers argued that McCain's money troubles and staff resignations and firings — he went from 120 campaign workers to 50 — were "another nail in Mr. McCain's campaign coffin," showing that "the wheels came off," and leading to "a death spiral that is almost never survived."

If cliches could kill, McCain would have been embalmed and buried.

Yet the Republican candidate most closely identified with the war and the surge performs well in head-to-head polls against the Democrats. The revival of McCain's campaign was possible for one reason: the revival of American fortunes in Iraq. Most categories of violence in Iraq are now down by more than 60 percent, and sectarian attacks in Baghdad have fallen by 90 percent. Sunni tribal leaders are conducting the first large-scale revolt of Arabs against al-Qaeda thuggery — which includes, we learned last week, strapping explosives to a mentally disabled woman and setting off a blast in a market.

McCain seems well suited to deal with this kind of evil — precisely because he would diagnose it as evil.

Every Republican save Ron Paul embraced the most energetic and belligerent of Bush's policies.  How McCain alone is helped by this seems a bit of a mystery.  Besides, someone might even say that the surge hasn't worked (because it has exhausted its own ability to continue without achieving any of its stated goals), but I guess that person would, as Gerson earlier says, would "embrace retreat at any cost."  But Gerson's claim about McCain's surging success is just run of the mill causal fallacy stuff–a little post hoc ergo propter hoc or perhaps some oversimplified cause.  The real travesty is the remark after the dash.  

There is another theologian in this race.  If diagnosing something as evil constitutes a qualification, then why isn't Gerson supporting Mike Huckabee?

Annus horribilis

The Washington Post listed their 10 most viewed opinions of the year.  A couple were by Dan Froomkin.  The winner was, however, an article by Liz, daughter of the VP, Cheney (in the original op-ed, she was not identified as his daughter–which, if you follow the link, led to rather silly slippery slope arguments by the perpetually permalosa Post Ombudsman, Deborah Howell.  To its rare credit, the Post doesn't make any claims about the quality of the top ten.  Nor should they.  Here's just a sample of Cheney's razor sharp mind:

· We are at war. America faces an existential threat. This is not, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has claimed, a "situation to be solved." It would be nice if we could wake up tomorrow and say, as Sen. Barack Obama suggested at a Jan. 11 hearing, "Enough is enough." Wishing doesn't make it so. We will have to fight these terrorists to the death somewhere, sometime. We can't negotiate with them or "solve" their jihad. If we quit in Iraq now, we must get ready for a harder, longer, more deadly struggle later.

As one of my grad profs (rightly) said (to me): italicizing doesn't make it any clearer.  The rest of the paragraph just runs together any number of basic logical fallacies–straw man, equivocation, false dichotomy, false cause, and so on.  For a good year end laugh at Cheney's expense–read the rest.

Happy New Year to all.

**After writing this, I realized I had mentioned this article before, but this is all I had to say about it:

It’s hard to have a conversation about the foolishness of ever having started the war in Iraq without running into people who accuse you of not wanting to win. I suppose they (probably purposely) confuse you’re believing you’re right about an unwinnable war with your wishing reality would conform to your beliefs. You–the opposer of the Iraq war–think rather that your belief corresponds in some philosophically uninteresting way with reality–not t’other way round. Such a basic confusion is the only explanation behind Liz Cheney’s guest op-ed in the Washington Post.

I'd say the same thing again today.  

Happy New Year again to everyone.

Suppressed Will

Today George Will goes after the Democratic congress for failing to avoid his misleading sarcasm.  The first charge, earmarks:

Hellbent on driving its approval rating into single digits, Congress adjourned after passing an omnibus spending bill larded with at least 8,993 earmarks costing at least $7.4 billion — the precise number and amount will be unclear until implications of some obscure provisions are deciphered. The gusher of earmarks was a triumph of bipartisanship, which often is a synonym for kleptocracy.

That first clause has a kind of causal ring to it I think, as if the cause of The Congress' low approval ratings were earmarks, lots of them.  On that presumption, the approval ratings of Congress ought to be higher than before.  Earmarks, under the Democrats, are down:

Democrats in Congress with the encouragement of President Bush vowed this year to seek a 50% reduction in federal budget "earmarks" — projects and programs inserted into spending bills by members of Congress to benefit their states or districts.

As it turns out, they didn't quite get there. How far they got depends on whose accounting method is used.

Democrats say they cut earmarks by 43%, to $9.2 billion, but they don't count water and military construction projects in their calculations. Those are mostly merit-based and less controversial than others.

Watchdog groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense say the reduction is closer to 25%, once all earmarks are counted. They count 11,144, for $15.3 billion.

The White House puts the reduction at a meager 13%. Its Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday that the final spending bill, which was passed by the House on Monday and won Senate approval Tuesday night, would bring the total spent on earmarks to $16.4 billion. That's 87% of the 2005 peak, according to OMB's figures.

And the rest of this mendacious (that's a word Will would use) piece continues along the same lines: (a) misrepresent (by leaving out crucial facts) some Democratic achievement, (b) make sarcastic remark about how it either (i) fails some kind of consistency test or (ii) fails some kind of test of basic rationality.

Someone said–maybe Digby–that we continue to believe that our political discourse has to be this way, as if this were the logical consequence of our democratic system.  I fail to see how it is the case that we need people like Will, who in addition to the habitual abuse of logic, simply misrepresent facts.  Can't the Post put a fact-checker between his column and print?  The same for everyone.  Opinion pieces, as we all know here, are composed of factual assertions.  Those have to be correct in order for the opinions to be worth reading.  It would be extra special if they had a logic checker–one thing at a time.

One final, unrelated point.  With so many silly posts on this website, would anyone mind telling me what their favorite one of the past year was?  Jon Swift seems to be having a kind of contest.


Robert Samuelson, a kind of Captain Bringdown of economics columnists, argues that we cannot have an honest debate about health care so long as it is about expanding coverage. He writes:

>The politics of health care rests on a mass illusion:

I know what you’re thinking. The illusion is that way too much of the money Americans spend on “health care” pays for needless bureaucracy, so that’s what we need to cut, right?


He continues:

>Most Americans think that someone else pays for their care. Workers with employer-provided insurance believe that their companies pay. Retirees and the poor think that the government, through Medicare (retirees) and Medicaid (the poor), pays. No one has an interest in controlling spending, because everyone believes that it burdens someone else. Naturally, the health-industrial complex — doctors, hospitals, drug companies — has no interest. Higher health spending raises their incomes and profits.

The problem is that people need health coverage. Perhaps they should need it less.

In all seriousness, while serious discussions of cost are always appropriate (I could make a living making that argument: here’s the formula: none of the candidates seriously want to address issue x, which is serious because of y, therefore z), Samuelson has to be aware of the rather obvious and well documented problem of how health insurance bureaucracy consumes a giant share of health care spending. Can’t we cut that first?

Triumph of the appearance of will

Maybe this isn’t a new line, but it strikes me as entertaining nonetheless. Bush & co have frequently asserted that we’re sending messages by our behavior here to both the troops and the enemy, as if the enemy would cower at hearing belligerent rhetoric and the troops would actually be supported by removable magnetic bumper stickers. Now the Iraqis have joined in the game:

>Much of the violence in Iraq last year was the outward manifestation of Iraqis realizing that the United States was an increasingly irrelevant force. Since shortly after the 2003 invasion, U.S. forces demonstrated an inability to protect anyone consistently. Iraqis watched as America became divided over the war and its merits, a split that culminated in the Democrats’ congressional victories in November. It gradually became clear to Iraqis that the United States was going to leave Iraq in a shambles. Their government did not appear capable of providing security, so many Iraqis reasoned that they would have to choose sides to survive.

>Joining a militia thus became a rational choice. The sectarian fighting and the intra-Sunni and intra-Shiite violence that spiked last year occurred as various armed groups positioned themselves to take power and Iraqis scrambled to find ways to protect themselves.

It’s all the fault of Democrats failing to appear resolute:

>While debate over a war’s merits — and whether to withdraw — is a sign of a healthy democracy, Iraq unfortunately highlights many of the difficulties a democracy faces in a long-term counterinsurgency or nation-building campaign. Such debate can be detrimental to the battle for perceptions. Having linked its future to an antiwar stance, the Democratic Congress has in effect told Iraqis that they are best off joining militias, because the dissolution of Iraq is only going to accelerate.

In the face of such partisan Democracy, we can hardly blame the Bush administration’s incompetence:

>Mismanagement by the Bush administration and an unquestioning Republican Congress may have set the stage for the sectarian violence of 2006, but Democratic efforts to pull out troops, cut off support or link support to unattainable benchmarks have been equally damaging to attempts to get militias and insurgents to lay down their arms.

You see, we have to want it.

Post tax cuts ergo propter tax cuts

It has become tiresome again to point out the numbskullery of George Will’s arguments. As he often does, today he misrepresents the positions of Bush’s tax cut objectors and asserts that the tax cuts in precisely the way Bush (and Reagan, of course) envision them have made the economy grow.

The first:

>Last Sunday, eight Democratic presidential candidates debated for two hours, saying about the economy . . . next to nothing. You must slog to Page 43 in the 51-page transcript before Barack Obama laments that “the burdens and benefits of this new global economy are not being spread evenly across the board” and promises to “institute some fairness in the system.”

>Well. When in the long human story have economic burdens and benefits been “spread evenly”? Does Obama think they should be, even though talents never are? What relationship of “fairness” does he envision between the value received by individuals and the value added by them? Does he disagree — if so, on what evidence? — with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that “the influence of globalization on inequality has been moderate and almost surely less important than the effects of skill-biased technological change”?

Someone with madder internet skillz than me ought to do a Nexis search for how many times Will writes “Well period” after quoting someone ought of context. I suppose Obama has only those sound bites to offer–no explanation behind them or anything. Just for the record, the complaint about the tax cuts consisted in their uneven distribution. Critics argued that they would have been more effective had people who could spend the money gotten more, and people who don’t spend or don’t need gotten less. That’s the argument–I’m not having it now, so don’t comment on it–so Will ought to deal with that claim. Instead he makes it sound like the Democrats were against any tax cuts or endorsed only the most Robin Hood of tax schemes. Aside from that, he makes it sound like the avoided the topic of the economy at the debate. Well. At the debate, they’re not the ones asking the questions. Besides, the one who did most of the talking was Wolf Blitzer.

The second:

>In the 102 quarters since Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts went into effect more than 25 years ago, there have been 96 quarters of growth. Since the Bush tax cuts and the current expansion began, the economy’s growth has averaged 3 percent per quarter, and more than 8 million jobs have been created. The deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product is below the post-World War II average.

Post tax cuts ergo propter tax cuts.

Oversimplified Fairness

Because the bulk of our analysis is aimed at conservative punditry, we have occasionally been accused of a left-leaning bias. We have spoken about this apparent lack of balance in our note on bias: most "liberal/progressive" newspaper pundits–unlike their conservative colleagues–simply don’t make arguments. The exception to this claim is Paul Krugman, back from behind the Times Select Curtain. Today, however, Krugman gets a little sloppy: >The main force driving this shift to the left [among the American voting public] is probably rising income inequality. According to Pew, there has recently been a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who agree with the statement that ‘the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.’ To be sure, there are more varied and urgent causes—say, for instance, an increasingly unpopular war and blatant disrespect for the Constitution—for the Democratic sweep of 2006. This is not to say that economic disparity hasn’t played a role, but to chalk them up as “the main force,” is, well, a little overstated. Furthermore, agreement with a cliche doth not a platform plank make. Paul, buddy, let’s not get out over our populist skis whilst riding in the wake of our glorious victory. -pm

You’re kidding, right?

In the years prior to September 11th, how many 9/11-style terror attacks were there? At what frequency? I ask because some continue to suggest that the absence of such attacks in the wake of 9/11 is an achievement:

>For more than three years, partisan opponents of the Bush administration have made two arguments against its conduct of the “global war on terror.”

>First, they’ve argued, the absence of another Sept. 11-like attack has not been the result of anything our government has done, here or overseas. Remember, after conditions in Iraq began to worsen, they began to say we were in even more jeopardy at home than we were five years ago.

Sorry Dr.Hanson, but absence of evidence is not evidence. Though a panicky media and government believed 9/11 was but the first of many attacks, experts suggested otherwise. Besides, terror attacks of the al Qaeda variety have taken place in both London and Madrid. Remember, the terrorists make no distinction among infidels (as we make no distinction among the terrorists and those who harbor them–except when we do).

This argument ought to be put to bed. The editors of the newspaper ought to delete it as they would a dangling participle.

Do you feel lucky?

Courtesy of Scott Horton, we have the following gem from our Dear Leader:

>I’ve met too many wives and husbands who’ve lost their partner in life, too many children who’ll never see their mom or dad again. I owe it to them and to the families who still have loved ones in harm’s way, to ensure that their sacrifices are not in vain

See the video here. Scott calls this the “Sunk Costs Fallacy” and he refers to the Skeptics Dictionary’s explanation:

>When one makes a hopeless investment, one sometimes reasons: I can’t stop now, otherwise what I’ve invested so far will be lost. This is true, of course, but irrelevant to whether one should continue to invest in the project. Everything one has invested is lost regardless. If there is no hope for success in the future from the investment, then the fact that one has already lost a bundle should lead one to the conclusion that the rational thing to do is to withdraw from the project.

>To continue to invest in a hopeless project is irrational. Such behavior may be a pathetic attempt to delay having to face the consequences of one’s poor judgment. The irrationality is a way to save face, to appear to be knowledgeable, when in fact one is acting like an idiot.”

This is really an interesting variety of non-sequitur in that it seems very much like the gambler’s fallacy–If I only keep rolling I’ll come out even! But, unlike the gambler’s fallacy, it doesn’t allege a specious causal connection between past and future gambling events. As a result, we will add this oft-heard non-sequitur to our categories list. The only question is where to put it.