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Commentary
Posted by: Jon Henke on Monday, March 06, 2006

Penn + Teller = crazy genius...
Leave it to Penn and Teller to have a (almost) SegaCD (amazingly bad system) game where you drive a bus across the Nevada desert for eight hours in real-time to score one point.
Apparently, this excercise in tedium was created "for people who didn’t like violence or unrealistic games". You can't even crash the bus.

This should make the paternal moralists very happy. Unless they have to play the game.

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Tim Worstall emails a tip to a new blog by Harvard Economist Jeffrey Miron: The Case for Small Government. In his opening post, he announces...
In this blog I provide a libertarian perspective on economic and social policy. By libertarian, I mean consequential libertarian, not philosophical libertarian. Thus, my arguments are based on assessments of costs and benefits, not on assertions about rights. My claim is that most government policies do more harm than good, even when the policies have good intentions and even when private arrangements work imperfectly.
This is a political approach I can get behind. Arguments from objective data are generally more useful than arguments from subjective moral values. Where is the utility in arguing that government coercion (e.g., taxation) is "immoral", when the vast majority of people don't share a moral premise that requires that value? 10 out of 10 for devotion to principle, but minus a few million for utility.

Ultimately, I think the problem with libertarianism is that it is a moral philosophy rather than a political philosophy. I wish there were a clearer nomenclature for the "limited government" movement that incorporates moral libertarians, but none has been found yet. We've advanced the idea of neolibertarianism, but I think it would be very helpful if there were a clear, distinct brand for people who favor social tolerance, minimal government, etc. Since there is not, we are stuck sharing a political tent with the moral system known as libertarianism.

In any event, The Case for Small Government looks like an interesting attempt to make practical libertarian arguments. Check it out.

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I'm not normally one to defend Powerline, but this has got to be the worst fact-check ever. Amazingly, it's being approvingly linked by various lefties.

Dan at Riehl World View does the appropriate deconstruction. I'm guessing that substantially fewer of the aforementioned members of the reality-based community will evaluate Dan's evidence.

UPDATE: Think Progress revisits their post....and — as guessed — fails to address the arguments made at Riehl World View. Or, really, any of the substantive evidence offered. Their response—and lack thereof—should be humiliating for an intellectually honest debater.

UPDATE II: To his credit, Judd at Think Progress has linked the Riehl World View critique, writing...
To their credit, it’s actually a far more substantive rebuttal than Hinderaker. Basically, RWV identifies conflicting (although not necessarily more reliable) data for some of the fact I use to support Murtha’s argument.

If Hinderaker made the argument that there is some data that conflicts with Murtha’s data I wouldn’t have had a problem. But he didn’t do that. Hinderaker said Murtha had “gone around the bend” and “[p]retty much every ‘fact’ that [he] hysterically tossed out is wrong.” That was the problem with Hinderaker’s “argument.”
I think Dan's evidence substantively more reliable in some instances (a citationless VOA story VS an Iraqi/United Nations study on the other) and reflective of important nuance in others (Cheney/Water/Iraqi opinion poll). I would argue that Hinderaker is more wrong than right on the Al Qaeda/Saddam connection, but both sides tend to obscure complexity on that question in favor of absolutists statements. Still, I think Judd is more right than Hinderaker there.

All in all, my biggest beef here — and this is a common beef I have while reading blogs — is the Think Progress elevates "I disagree with the facts you use" to "facts supporting your argument do not exist". And in fairness, Dan at Riehl World View makes the case far better than Hinderaker.

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Increasingly, I am coming to believe that Amnesty International's remark comparing Guantanamo Bay to the Soviet Gulag was accurate. The difference in degree is enormous, but the difference in nature is minimal. Consider this report, in which reporters examined "hearing transcripts and evidentiary statements from the two types of military panels that evaluate whether the detainees should remain at Guantánamo", produces stories like that of Abdur Sayed Rahman, imprisoned because his name resembles Taliban deputy foreign minister Abdur Zahid Rahman. Or the "at least half a dozen men" who were held because they owned a model of Casio watch that had "been used in bombings linked to Al Qaeda." Or the detainees who said they had only offered confessions in order to "stop beatings or torture by their captors". There's much more, including evidence that the US paid rewards for "any 'Arab terrorist' handed over", that we used self-contradictory assertions as evidence, and that detainees had "been badly beaten and subjected to treatment that only could be called torture" by Americans.

No, Guantanamo is not immoral to the degree that the Gulag was. But, in Guantanamo, we repeat many of the sins of the Gulag. "Better than the Gulag" is not a defense of Guantanamo worthy of the American ideal.
 
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Comments
I wonder if you pass any brothels in Penn & Teller’s game.
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://steverino.journalspace.com
I saw a report this weekend where a prisoner said he’d rather be a Gitmo than other possible places as he gets treated well, gets 3 meals a day, gets basically whatever he wants (soccer balls, etc.). Just sayin.
 
Written By: markm
URL: http://
Re: Gitmo

Yes, once again, according to the detainees’ own stories, they are innocent.

Odd, that. You hardly ever see those kinds of claims from the occupants of a detention facility.

I suppose that’s one of the consequences of the government not declassifying the rest of their documentation (as it mentions in the article). Some percentage of people are going to believe exactly what they read, which in this case, appears to be entirely the claims of the detainees.
 
Written By: W
URL: http://
I saw a report this weekend where a prisoner said he’d rather be a Gitmo than other possible places as he gets treated well, gets 3 meals a day, gets basically whatever he wants (soccer balls, etc.). Just sayin
"Many people argued that slavery was inhuman and cruel and should be abolished but the slave owners argued that it wasn’t so bad, and that in fact the slaves actually were happy, the evidence for this being that they sometimes rattled their chains in a rhythmic fashion." — Dave Barry
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Yes, once again, according to the detainees’ own stories, they are innocent.
It’s just that there’s not really any counter-evidence. You’d think there would be in the governments own files.
I suppose that’s one of the consequences of the government not declassifying the rest of their documentation (as it mentions in the article). Some percentage of people are going to believe exactly what they read, which in this case, appears to be entirely the claims of the detainees.
....except that, the people who have viewed the classified sections are unanimous in agreement that they add little or nothing to the original claims. They are largely just classified to keep identifying details private, and do not contain incriminating evidence.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
The other day I made a comment about teachers failures to criticize other teachers and compared it to moderate Muslims failure to criticize the current cartoon riots. I was not making an equivalancy statement but rather that if one were obligated to denounce their groups actions then the other group should also be held to the same standard. This was my response from Pogue Mahone.
Comparing a school teacher’s lack of self criticism to moderate Muslim’s lack of self criticism…
Talk about outrageous.
I anxiously await Pogue’s critique on this:
Increasingly, I am coming to believe that Amnesty International’s remark comparing Guantanamo Bay to the Soviet Gulag was accurate. The difference in degree is enormous, but the difference in nature is minimal. Read here.
It is estimated that more than thirty million prisoners entered the Gulag during the half century in which it flourished. Not all of them perished, of course. Short termers, especially, might endure their five-year sentence and be released. In some cases, however, prisoners who had served their time in the Gulag were denied return to their homes, and forced to live out the remainder of their lives in towns near the camp. Robert Conquest, who of Western scholars has done the most to investigate and to reveal the crimes of the Soviet regime, estimates that one out of every three new inmates died during the first year of imprisonment. Only half made it through the third year. Conquest estimates that during the "Great Terror" of the late 1930s alone, there were six million arrests, two million executions, and another two million deaths from other causes in the camps. It is Conquest’s belief that, by the time of Stalin’s death in 1953, about twelve million had perished in the Gulag. Certain investigators, such as the late Andrei Sakharov, have put the figure much higher, from 15 to 20 million. These apparent discrepancies result from honest historians studying crimes, committed in a closed society, of a magnitude never before seen, without reliable documentation.
OK, Pogue, have at it. If I were a Gitmo detainee I wouldn’t even respond to Jon.
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
Are you seriously criticizing my argument by pointing out that the Gulag was much worse than Guantanamo?
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Well Jon, the ACTUALITY of something does count as evidence for or against it. So Yes if Gitmo is not as bad as the Gulag Archipelago it is a point to be made in its favour. I’m sorry, this is the REAL world, where the reality of something counts too, not simply a philosophic debating society debating the "essence" or the "form" of things.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Wow, if Gitmo is just like the Soviet Gulags, I guess we’ll have to revisit our views of the Soviet Union, especially if its just a distinction of scale.

I didnt realize that the USSR had so many qualified doctors looking after the well-being of all those detainees.

I didnt realize that the USSR allowed free expression of religion - even providing space and materials for free expression thereof.

I didnt realize that the USSR had such a large ’ghost’ work force, thus allowing all detainees to spend their days idly.

I didnt realize that the USSR really did not transport whole families, even villages to these wonderful apportioned and well kept detention centers.

It it is really just a difference of scale, one must conclude that the Soviet Union really wasnt an evil empire, and in fact went to great extents, and great expenses to humanely, even benevolently care for its political prisoners.

/snark

I’ll stand by your side Jon and condemn the uncalled for and prolonged detainment of many of those at Gitmo, but to continue the absolutely ridiculous comparison to the Soviet Gulag is hyperbole at best...

 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
Dear sweet merciful christ on a stick. I never wrote that Gitmo was as bad as the Gulag. I thought readers would be able to discern the difference between an argument about nature and one about degree.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Jon, YOU won’t accept that because Gitmo DOES NOT EQUAL THE GULAG it ISN’T the Gulag... You just want to trot out your argumnet and have agreement. Sorry, to an extent your point is well taken, that simply because we aren’t torturing the prisoners to death or starving them whilst mining gold, does not excuse US policy or its makers. But it is STILL RELEVANT that Gitmo doesn’t = the Gulag, and yes you do make that claim in your argument, that because it is philosophically similar or equivalent then it IS the Gulag and ought to be abolished. Well, many of us disagree with even THAT statement, sorry.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I am disagreeing with with your statemnet that the Amnesty Internationals characterization was accurate. I also disagree that the difference in nature in minimal. That is why I bolded those statements.
This is what a former Soviet dissident had to say in the Washington Post.
The cruelty and scale of the gulag system are described in numerous books, so there is no need to recount them here. By any standard, Guantanamo and similar American-run prisons elsewhere do not resemble, in their conditions of detention or their scale, the concentration camp system that was at the core of a totalitarian communist system.
The most effective way to criticize U.S. behavior is to frankly acknowledge that this country should be held to a higher standard based on its own Constitution, laws and traditions. We cannot fulfill our responsibilities as the world’s only superpower without being perceived as a moral authority. Despite the risks posed by terrorism, the United States cannot indefinitely detain people considered dangerous without appropriate safeguards for their conditions of detention and periodic review of their status.
Words are important. When Amnesty spokesmen use the word "gulag" to describe U.S. human rights violations, they allow the Bush administration to dismiss justified criticism and undermine Amnesty’s credibility. Amnesty International is too valuable to let it be hijacked by politically biased leaders.
Let me repeat what he said. Words are important Jon, it’s your words "accurate" and "minimal" that I seriously disagree with.
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
IIFC, there were initially 800+ in gitmo. There are now 500-. In four years.

I did not realize that the Soviets released over 25% of those detained in four years or less.
 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
No, Guantanamo is not immoral to the degree that the Gulag was. But, in Guantanamo, we repeat many of the sins of the Gulag. "Better than the Gulag" is not a defense of Guantanamo worthy of the American ideal.


So many of the sins... =’s all the sins? At what point can a thing exhibit SOME of the sins of something and still be acceptable?

And Ideals, how far in defending my ideals shall I go? If my ideals seem to mandate suicidal behavior am I being rational in pursuit of my ideals? Are my ideals rational? What balance can be struck between ideals and perceived or real security threats?

I think Jon, you might explore this portion of your philosophy, profitably. Or is it a philosophy or is it a stick to beat your non-libertarian opponent?

The response you make will tell us alot about that last one....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
the people who have viewed the classified sections are unanimous in agreement that they add little or nothing to the original claims
Do you have a cite? I probably haven’t read all of the articles you’ve linked, but all of the ones that I have read are all of a piece, and that is:
the detainees’ lawyers, when they viewed the classified sections are unanimous in agreement that they add little or nothing to the original claims
Are the examples you cite available online?

 
Written By: W
URL: http://
People were wrongfully picked up in a warzone (I include Pakistan in the warzone by the way. Any reason why not to?)

Many of these people have been released. There have been media stories by detainees who have been released some who say they were tortured and some who say they were treated well.

Some of the released detainees were later discovered to have become combattants again.

Combat troops on the ground also complained that they would detain people in Afghanistan only to re-detain them later as the system had released them. (see also supposed Zarkawi capture and release in Iraq)

From this evidence, I would suggest that there have been many false positives as well as false negatives. The fact that we do release people (within 4 years of the beginning of the conflict even while it is ongoing) suggests that any trouble with the system means that we need to work out the kinks.

The Gulag it ain’t.


p.s. meanwhile Taliban are free to study at Yale.

 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
I did not realize that the Soviets released over 25% of those detained in four years or less.
Plus, the Gulag was a cold environment, while Guanatanamo is a warm environment. They’re totally different! What was I thinking?
And Ideals, how far in defending my ideals shall I go? If my ideals seem to mandate suicidal behavior am I being rational in pursuit of my ideals? Are my ideals rational? What balance can be struck between ideals and perceived or real security threats?
I’ve not advocated anything suicidal.
Do you have a cite? I probably haven’t read all of the articles you’ve linked, but all of the ones that I have read are all of a piece, and that is:

the detainees’ lawyers, when they viewed the classified sections are unanimous in agreement that they add little or nothing to the original claims
That’s the one. And with no contradictory evidence, nor any particular reason to believe that these disparate and disconnected lawyers have gotten together to compare stories and agree to pretend that the classified information is wholly different than it is, I have to wonder why you claim the classified information says something else. Classified information might contain the names and location details that need to remain secret, but what dispositive data would they contain that couldn’t be declassified?

So far, your claim rests on the idea that there’s something dispositive in the classified data, because there must be. I mean, the government couldn’t mislead us, could they?
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Yet Jon, you make no answer to my reasonable question.... is it that you can’t?
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I don’t see any specific questions. I have no idea what your ideals are, or how they relate to this situation.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Not MY IDEALS Jon, yours... as you say Gitmo violates American "Ideals." So, explain how many ideals can be compromised before it’s a no go on a deal or if one’s ideals are damaging to one’s survival should one modify one’s ideals. i explained it in the post above... it quoted YOU, remember.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Not MY IDEALS Jon, yours...
Ah, the part where you’d written "my ideals" had me confused.
So, explain how many ideals can be compromised before it’s a no go on a deal or if one’s ideals are damaging to one’s survival should one modify one’s ideals. i explained it in the post above... it quoted YOU, remember.
I find your questions too vague for a meaningful answer. What should I say, 42? What metrics can I attach to such vague sentiments.

Guantanamo compromises our notion that each person deserves dignity, liberty, fairness and process. The ideals we acceded to upon signing the Geneva Convention. More fundamentally, what we have in Gitmo is an opaque detention center where hundreds of almost-certainly innocent or harmless people are being held at great cost to our national prestige (soft power), our moral authority (more soft power) and our international status.

That kind of thing hurts us in a long war. And it is morally wrong to treat the people held at Gitmo with such secrecy and abuse with little regard for their status. Presumably you would agree that, if we swept up innocent bystanders, then it would be morally wrong to abuse them, detain them indefinitely, and prevent them from getting due process?
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Vague statements or simply a vague statement of principle from Jon Henke....Someone who has the Gitmo Bug up his arse...
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
And with no contradictory evidence, nor any particular reason to believe that these disparate and disconnected lawyers have gotten together to compare stories and agree to pretend that the classified information is wholly different than it is, I have to wonder why you claim the classified information says something else
Thanks, good answer. My point would be that I see no reason why they’d keep these specific people, release others, etc. Do I think some of them are innocent? Yeah. Do I think most of them are guilty? Yeah. Do I think there’s systemic abuse? No.

Do I think it’s a war and because the adversary chooses to pose as a civilian, that the adversary himself is the problem? Yeah.

For anyone else wondering, here’s a link to tribunal hearing declassified testimony:

http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/foi/detainees/csrt/index.html

They’re separate pdf’s and not searcable en masse.
 
Written By: W
URL: http://

 
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