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Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

[reddit-me]Andrew Sullivan and Ezra Klein both posted today about Campbell’s Law, citing an article by Dana Goldstein in the Daily Beast about corruption in schools under Michelle Rhee’s chancellorship in Washington, D.C.:

In the social sciences, there is an oft-repeated maxim called Campbell’s Law, named after Donald Campbell, a psychologist who studied human creativity. Campbell’s Law states that incentives corrupt. In other words, the more punishments and rewards—such as merit pay—are associated with the results of any given test, the more likely it is that the test’s results will be rendered meaningless, either through outright cheating or through teaching to the test in a way that narrows the curriculum and renders real learning obsolete.

I can think of cooler things that might be called Campbell’s Law — but such as it is, it goes a long way to explaining the flaw in capitalism without enough regulation. Organizing an economy around the pursuit of currency is efficient but not in the way it was intended — as any shortcut or corruption is utilized, as every possible cost is externalized.

It also goes a helps explain — but not as completely — how government tax incentives subsidizing gasoline, corn, middle class mortgages, student loans, and health care costs has led to escalating demand for these resources — seemingly distorting the market more than a direct intervention would. There seems to be something about tax incentives that distorts markets more than direct interventions. (A topic that seems up Matt Yglesias‘s alley to explore.)

On a related note, when taxpayers demand their receipt for government services– it should reflect not only disbursements, but the cost of tax benefits and loopholes.

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Posted in Criticism, Domestic issues | 1,380 Comments »

Censoring the Truth About the Crusader Prince?

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Scott Horton apparently reported on several declarations filed in Federal Court in Eastern Virginia that included explosive allegations regarding the military contractor Blackwater and its owner Erik Prince. Andrew Sullivan linked to him – but between Sullivan’s linking and my clicking on Sullivan’s link, the article was taken down. A search of The Daily Beast for Scott Horton’s article turns up nothing except a link to Jeremy Scahill of The Nation‘s recent piece on the same subject. Andrew Sullivan had excerpted this summary of the charges contained in the Declarations on his blog:

  • Both men requested anonymity to avoid mortal threats. “It appears that Mr. Prince or his employees murdered, or had murdered, one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities,” said John Doe #1. John Doe #2 says he received personal threats after leaving Blackwater.
  • Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.” He “intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis.”
  • Blackwater “employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms of Iraqis and other Arabs, such as ‘ragheads’ or ‘hajis.’”
  • Blackwater deployed to Iraq individuals who (a) made “statements about wanting to… ‘kill ragheads’ or achieve ‘kills’ or ‘body counts,’” (b) drank excessively, (c) used steroids, and (d) failed to follow safety and other instructions governing the use of lethal weapons. Mental-health professionals who raised concerns about deployment of such individuals were fired.
  • Prince obtained “illegal ammunition… designed to explode after penetrating within the human body” and smuggled it into Iraq for use.
  • Prince distributed other illegal weapons for use in Iraq.
  • Prince was aware of the use of prostitutes, “including child prostitutes,” at Blackwater’s “Man Camp” in Iraq, which he visited.

The actual declarations can be found here – John Doe 1 (pdf) – and here – John Doe 2 (pdf). These papers were part of opposition to a motion – the complete set of which can be found here. (Beware – it’s a few hundred pages of pdfs). I have emailed Scott Horton to see if he has any comment/explanation for why his article is no longer up on the Daily Beast.

Edit: The Daily Beast still has not gotten back to me. Mr. Horton replied telling me that he was looking into why his article was taken down himself.

[Image by John Rohan licensed under Creative Commons.]

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Posted in Iraq, National Security, Politics, The Opinionsphere, The War on Terrorism | 61 Comments »

The Lessons of Torture in World War II

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]When I first started this blog, I told the story of two different interrogations at the beginning of Bush’s War on Terror – one using traditional methods which yielded actionable intelligence; and one using “enhanced” techniques which yielded false information. Now – in the past few weeks with Obama referencing Winston Churchill in defense of his administration’s anti-torture stance, a battle has broken out over torture in World War II. Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly engaged in a skirmish earlier this week – but at the same time, two academics have written pieces about the broader historical context – both of which purport to demonstrate how torture helped the Allies win the war. 

N.B. Keep in mind while reading these stories that the justification for using torture that American proponents utilize is that it is an essential intelligence tool that is necessary to produce actionable intelligence quickly.

Julian Sanchez told the first story about how torture helped win “the Good War.” The Japanese tortured an American airman in the immediate aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki trying to get information about this bomb program. The airman “confessed” that America had hundreds of atom bombs ready to drop on Japanese cities. In turns out, the airman knew nothing of the program – and America has just used the only one left in it’s stock. It’s unclear what effect this information had – but this false information gleaned from torture had to have had an effect on Japan’s leadership as they debated whether or not to surrender. Sanchez doesn’t lay out the lesson – but based on his presentation, it is clear: Torture produces false information.

Andrew Roberts, who claims to be an historian, tells a different story in The Daily Beast. He starts out explaining what the lessons he wants to convey is –  the “crucial truth” about torture during World War II that he makes clear will support the right-wing defense of torture. Roberts writes:

When troops need information about enemy capabilities and intentions—and they usually need it fast—moral and ethical conventions…have repeatedly been ignored in the bid to save lives.

So far, a relatively uncontroversial reading of history. But the next sentence is a doozy:

In the conflict generally regarded today as the most ethical in history, World War II, enhanced interrogation techniques were regularly used by the Allies…[my emphases]

Google records 0 instances of anyone calling World War II the most ethical anything in history. For good reason – first, Roberts entirely mis-states what he means to say – that the Allies conduct in World War II was the most ethical in history; secondly, from the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo to the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the interment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans there are quite a few barbaric acts associated with the Allies in the war. What Roberts should know – as an historian – is that World War II is widely regarded as a “good war” – one of the few – not because our conduct was exemplary – but because the war was against evil forces that left no choice but for the Allies to violently oppose them. Roberts only uses this as a throwaway phrase – more important is his second point – that “enhanced interrogation techniques were regularly used by the Allies.” 

Roberts spends the rest of his piece not backing up this assertion – except by innuendo. The story Roberts chooses to tell is of Operation Fortitude – Britain’s program that used German intelligence agents to feed misinformation to keep the bulk of the German army away from Normandy on D-Day. But in terms of “enhanced interrogation techniques” being used on these agents, he literally offers no proof. This is the closest he gets:

If anyone believes that SIS persuaded each of these 19 hard-bitten Nazi spies to fall in with Operation Fortitude by merely offering them tea, biscuits, and lectures in democracy, they’re being profoundly naïve.

Once again – a Google search for “Operation Fortitude” and torture yielded no results backing up Roberts’s history. Roberts himself cites not sources or records or accounts – and for what it’s worthy, torture is hardly the traditional method of turning a double agent. 

What you find instead are accounts that explicitly reject Roberts’s innuendo. Colonel Robin “Tin-Eye” Stephens who ran the interrogation center that turned these German spies into double agents for the same Operation Fortitude banned violence saying:

Never strike a man. It is unintelligent, for the spy will give an answer to please, an answer to escape punishment.

Stephens was manipulative – and held the threat of lawful execution over the German spies’ heads – but he understood that it was idiotic to torture them for information. Roberts gives no source for his rejection of the historical facts – but instead accuses those who accept them of being “profoundly naïve.”

Still – even if we are to grant Roberts his premise – that these agents were recruited as doubles by means of torture – his story still wouldn’t demonstrate that torture was “regularly used by the Allies” or capable of getting accurate “information about enemy capabilities and intentions.”

The story Roberts tells – if anything – undermines the idea of torture as an interrogation tool. Time and again – even in Roberts telling – history demonstrates that torture is an exceptionally effective tool to break an individual, to get them to confess to something regardless of it’s truth. Unfortunately, it is substantially documented that our intelligence agencies adopted a program of torture without knowing it’s history. What is almost inexplicable is how an historian such as Roberts can today still try to justify this program when the history of the methods used has been dragged out into the open.

(more…)

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Posted in History, National Security, The Bush Legacy, The Opinionsphere, The War on Terrorism | 18 Comments »

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