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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Barbara O'Brien once explained that her blogging M.O. was to read conservative blogs every morning until something made her mad enough to want to write about it. It's not a bad way to go. I often do that with the daily paper--I disagree, for example, with both of this week's Democratic primary endorsements. But I have lower-hanging fruit to fry this morning: Conservative Wisconsin Bloggers.

Today's lesson in conservative bloggers making me mad starts at Fred's place:
I got this from my friend Tony in Rockford, [Fred writes]. Makes ya think...

There were 39 combat related killings in Iraq in January. In the fair city of Detroit there were 35 murders in the month of January. That's just one American city, about as deadly as the entire war-torn country of Iraq.
Immediately my BS detector started going off. I don't remember the casualty totals for US troops in January--nor do I know what the murder rate is in Detroit--but anyone with a passing knowledge of statistics can see that this is a bogus stat. For one thing, how do you compare troop deaths in Iraq to overall citizen deaths in a city--in other words, shouldn't we count civilians, too? What is the difference in the size of the populations? According to Iraq Body Count, there were 650 deaths in Baghdad alone in January 2006, and an average of at least 1,000 people a month over the 42 months of combat there. Thirty-five US soldiers--two from Wisconsin--were killed just over this last weekend.

Even taking the numbers "Tony in Rockford" provides at face value, the violent death rate for US troops in Iraq ends up at about six times the murder rate in Detroit.

Of course, when I and others pointed out the statistical fallacies in the comments over there, we were accused of "playing with numbers." The Game, another local conservative, linked approvingly to Fred's post--after we had already debunked the Detroit analogy--and then said that I was "spinning": "[Y]ou are comparing a single city to an entire country," he accused me. Hm, I thought. Since "Tony in Rockford" started it, perhaps Game needs some reading comprehension lessons.

Sadly, this email from "Tony in Rockford" didn't end there:
When some claim that President Bush shouldn't have started this war, consider the following:

a. FDR led us into World War II. Germany never attacked us. Japan did. From 1941-1945, 450,000 lives were lost ... an average of 112,500 per year.

b. Truman finished that war and started one in Korea. North Korea never attacked us. From 1950-1953, 55,000 lives were lost ... an average of 18,334 per year.

c. John F. Kennedy started the Vietnam conflict in 1962. Vietnam never attacked us.

d. Johnson turned Vietnam into a quagmire. From 1965-1975, 58,000 lives were lost ... an average of 5,800 per year.

e. Clinton went to war in Bosnia without UN or French consent. Bosnia never attacked us. He was offered Osama bin Laden's head on a platter three times by Sudan and did nothing. Osama has attacked us on multiple occasions.

f. In the years since terrorists attacked us, President Bush has liberated two countries, crushed the Taliban, crippled al-Qaida, put nuclear inspectors in Libya, Iran, and North Korea without firing a shot, and captured a terrorist who slaughtered 300,000 of his own people. The Democrats are complaining about how long the war is taking. But it took less time to take Iraq than it took Janet Reno to take the Branch Davidian compound. That was a 51-day operation..and if you consider how long it took to democracize Japan and Germany after WWII, the time in Iraq since the war ended is not that long either. We've been looking for evidence for chemical weapons in Iraq for less time than it took Hillary Clinton to find the Rose Law Firm billing records. It took less time for the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines to destroy Saddam's Republican Guard than it took Ted Kennedy to call the police after his Oldsmobile sank at Chappaquiddick! It took less time to take Iraq than it took to count the votes in Florida!

Our Commander-In-Chief is doing a GREAT JOB ! The military morale is high!

The biased media hopes we are too ignorant to realize the facts.
Because I debunked the first paragraph in the comments at Fred's and Game's blogs, I thought that would be enough to show them that "Tony in Rockford" was off his marble. The whole point of Tony's email, as far as I can tell, is that because the casualty rate for US soldiers is less in this war than in others, Bush is a flippin' genius or something. Exhibit A in Tony's opus magnum was the Detroit analogy, which was total and utter BS. Then he goes through every war since WWII, lists casualty rates, and tries to create equivalence where there is none. For example:

WWII: Germany attacked our allies, and was itself allied the a country that did attack us. There is no equivalence to Iraq.

Korea and Vietnam were both parts of (an admittedly failed) strategy of aggressive defense of our allies against the spread of Communism. We were asked to go into those wars and were members of coalitions doing the fighting. As we learned later, containment--a strategy Bush has chosen not to use--worked better to defeat Communism. And if, as Bush is trying to make us believe, Islamic Fascism is what we're really fighting against in the Middle East (as we fought Communism in Asia), then we attacked the wrong country: Iraq was secular and, while a dictatorship, not in any danger of ideological expansion the way Communism was. There is no equivalence to Iraq.

Clinton's going into Bosnia (notice how "Tony in Rockford" conveniently neglects to tell us how many American troops died in that one . . . because it's one!) was to stop an active genocide. Such genocide was not happening in Iraq. Saddam was a bad guy, and had killed many Shi'ia and Kurds, but not at the time we invaded. There is no equivalence to Iraq.

And the Clinton-bin Laden thing is a myth.

In letter f, "Tony in Rockford" rambles on about a bunch of things. Included there is any number of outright falsehoods:
  • The Taliban was not "crushed"; it's making a resurgence.
  • al-Qaida is not "crippled"; Osama is supposedly on dialysis, but from the number of bombings since 9/11 (Mali, Madird, London, and so on) and foiled plots you'd never know that we "crippled" their operation.
  • Any nuclear inspectors in Iran and North Korea certainly aren't earning their paychecks.
And then he throws in some gratuitous Clinton- and Kennedy-bashing that I won't dignify.

There is a legitimate point to be made about the relative lengths of our occupations after WWII; however, neither Japan nor Germany fell into a civil war while we were there.

Clearly, though, "Tony in Rockford" is either a liar or seriously misinformed.

There are two very frustrating things about this email from "Tony in Rockford" and the reactions to it. One is that because it fits in with the ideology, both Fred and the Game (and some other commenters) were willing to ignore blatant falsehoods and errors of logic that would embarass a staistically-savvy fifth grader. They're willing to lie--or at least let other people lie for them--to make their points. The truth has no value any more, apparently.

The Game, for example, has absolutely no compunction about posting Ann Coulter columns that are full of lies. And that he knows contain lies. It isn't just that later I or someone comes along to debunk them, but the lies in Coulter's column (which you can read--of you have the stomach for it--in full here) have been debunked repeatedly for him before--lies like "[Democrats] oppose the National Security Agency listening to people who are calling specific phone numbers found on al-Qaida cell phones and computers." Even the dimmest among my conservative readers know that's not true.

It infuriates me that these otherwise probably pretty smart bloggers knowingly propagate lies.

The other frustrating thing about the email from "Tony in Rockford" is that it's nothing but an old hoax chain email forward that they fell for. I hit Snopes as soon as I saw it--it had all the hallmarks of urban legend--but Snopes's article doesn't actully debunk the lies and distortions within the email. Still, had Fred even an ounce of integrity and common sense, he would have figured it out and not posted it. But instead, he was suckered.

In the end, that makes for a great analogy for a lot of the blind idiocy that I see from the right: They've been suckered. Some of them know it, and are mad; others are willing to keep piling on more and more lies to try to make themselves feel better. Like the bully who teases others because he himself is insecure, it seems that if you lie about what Democrats believe--or about federal judges--then maybe it doesn't hurt so much that you've been suckered by this administration.

UPDATE: Check out Mother Jones magazine's Lie-by-Lie timeline. It takes Flash, but you, too, can relive the memories of how so many people got suckered.

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