Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Industrial Revolution Unplugged: An Interview With Author Gregory Clark

The topic below was originally posted in my blog the Intrepid Liberal Journal as well as the Independent Bloggers Alliance, The Peace Tree and Worldwide Sawdust.

Our current world of globalization, technological advancement and the widening schism between rich and poor stems from the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution is arguably the most important historical watershed in human history. So why did it happen in eighteenth-century England? Furthermore, how come the unprecedented economic growth it produced only served to make parts of the world even poorer?

Conventional wisdom is that the Industrial Revolution resulted from the development of stable, political, legal and economic institutions in seventeenth-century Europe. Many assume factors such as geography, natural resources or exploitation were behind the Industrial Revolution. A decade ago, Jared Diamond postulated in his best selling and Pulitzer prize winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, that natural endowments such as geography were largely responsible for differences in the wealth of nations.

Gregory Clark, a professor of economics at the University of California, Davis as well as department Chair, is posing a direct challenge to Diamond and our longstanding belief of why the Industrial Revolution happened. In his recently published book, A Farewell To Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (Princeton University Press), Clark contends that culture not imperialism or geography explains the wealth and poverty of nations.

His provocative book has garnered much attention and provoked considerable debate. Tyler Cowen of the New York Times wrote late last year that,

“Professor Clark’s idea-rich book may just prove to be the next blockbuster in economics. He offers us a daring story of the economic foundations of good institutions and the climb out of recurring poverty. We may not have cracked the mystery of human progress, but ‘A Farewell to Alms' brings us closer than before."
Still others take issue with Clark’s suggestion that culture is far more influential than institutions in generating economic growth. In a New York Times review in August, Robert P. Brenner, a historian at the University of California, Los Angeles is quoted as referring to Clark’s idea of genes for capitalist behavior as a “speculative leap.”

Prior to even reading Clark’s book, conservative Andrew Sullivan wrote the following for his blog in August,
“Conservatism has long posited that human nature has no history. But what if it does? What if genetic adaptation occurs more swiftly among humans than we once believed? This implies that human nature is actually more plastic than we have long thought - but generationally, not individually. It suggests that different populations may have not just different cultural but different genetic inclinations. It means that some populations may therefore have different skill-sets than others, and even different aptitudes with respect to complex systems like, liberal democracy, that require specific habits of mind and custom. It means that these facts about human societies across the globe may be somewhat stubborn things in the short term, if not in the long.

If these ideas undermine parts of conservatism (its belief in unchanging human nature in history), they also entrench others (that societies cannot be abstracted from their moment in time or culture). These ideas also suggest, of course, that a place like, say, Iraq, will not soon muster anything like the skills and practices for a Western European democracy. These are my wild-eyed inferences from a book I have not yet read.“
Yet Clark’s book also a difficult pill to swallow for liberals idealists like me who believe in activism to promote peace, justice and prosperity on a global scale. Personally, I believe factors beyond culture such as natural resources, geography and hostile neighbors are largely responsible for defining cultures. Hence, I further believe that activism is required to help influence those factors that shape cultures and hopefully facilitate worldwide prosperity and social justice.

Putting my own misgivings about some of his conclusions aside, Clark’s book is compelling, scrupulously sourced and contains an abundance of remarkable facts. Clark graciously agreed to a telephone interview with me about his book. Below is a transcript of our conversation.

ILJ: Professor before we delve into the substance of your book let’s talk about why you embarked on this project in the first place. Why is it so important to establish why the Industrial Revolution happened?

Clark: Well, the industrial revolution is actually one of those amazing puzzles of world history. And it’s something that’s up there with things like String Theory in physics and quasars in astronomy. It’s how we got here. It’s how we have the modern world. And the puzzle is why did it occur only 200 years ago when people were around for at least a hundred thousand years before that? One of the reasons it was fun to write this book is that you could actually explain this puzzle in terms that any intelligent person can understand and let them see why it is such an amazing puzzle about why history would take that particular form. Whereas with things like quantum mechanics I certainly know I’m never going to understand that stuff (laughs)!

ILJ: I’m curious as to how you compiled the impressive historical data you utilized. Whether one agrees with your arguments or not, and I’m skeptical about some of your conclusions, the information you accumulated whether it’s last wills and testaments from men in the 1600s or pre-industrial fertility rates is quite astounding. I found myself transfixed by all the data presented in your charts and graphs. How did you obtain access to this data as well as economic surveys from hundreds of years ago?

Clark: Well, I’m a specialist in English economic history. And that’s actually one of the countries that is the best documented, going way back to the middle ages. I’ve been working on this book for twelve years. I’ve been in this field for twenty-five years. And then the other thing is I actually love to read anthropology and that provided this whole other source of data. And then I’ve been teaching for the last fifteen years effectively world history courses. So the great thing is you gradually get exposed to more and more evidence and more and more materials. And what’s nice about this particular history is this is a very obscure corner of the academic realm.

People are just not aware of how useful and interesting various bits of information we have from the past are. How we can estimate how literate the upper Roman classes were, or what was the speed of travel for information in the ancient world. We actually do know all these things so part of the fun of the book was to reveal to people that there is this amazing body of information about the past. So it’s partly my own research and partly just drawing on this huge body of knowledge that scholars in economic history and anthropology have assembled.

ILJ: So you really were combining two disciplines: economics and anthropology?

Clark: Yeah, I’ve always had an interest in anthropology and also particularly in socio-biology. When I was in graduate school at Harvard I listened to all sorts of lectures from evolutionary anthropologists. So for me it was fun just to try and bring different types of evidence and arguments together in this book and expand people’s idea of what economic history is about. It’s more than just boring stuff about prices and wages.

ILJ: Professor, a reoccurring theme in your book, especially the first part of your book covering the pre-Industrial Revolution is what you term the Malthusian trap, named after Thomas Malthus who in 1798 wrote “An Essay On the Principle of Population.” For the benefit of those who haven’t read your book or the work of Thomas Malthus for that matter, what is the Malthusian trap?

Clark: Well here is an interesting piece of intellectual history. Malthus was writing just as the world he was describing was coming to an end. It’s interesting that just as that world was ending he finally figured out its true nature. The problem with all societies prior to 1800 was that technological advance was very slow.

In a world with slow technological advances and unrestricted fertility (or at least very modestly restricted fertility), when technological advances occur living standards are increased in the short run. But those increased living standards result simply in fewer people dying and more people being born, and that drives up the population. With a fixed land endowment that just drives wages down back to some kind of subsistence level.

So in all of the world before 1800, technological advancements were absorbed into population growth. None of it got translated into any long-term increase of living standards. That’s the Malthusian trap that existed before 1800. And that produced a topsy-turvy world in which all our intuitions about what is good for society turn out to be wrong.

ILJ: That leads to my next question. In Chapter five about life expectancy you note that the cultures in China and Japan respectively practiced superior hygiene then their European counterparts during the pre-industrial era. Did the Europeans, England especially, perversely benefit from inferior hygiene because their populations were kept down from plagues while the standard of living for those who survived, were enhanced?

Clark: Yes, this is one of the paradoxes of history and an example of why this book is meant to be bold and controversial. It’s previously been known that England and the Netherlands had very high living standards compared to most pre-industrial societies in the eighteenth century. People have identified that with an idea of greater economic progress in those societies. What my book argues instead is that living standards were good there not because of any sophistication of their economies, but because of the nature of hygiene practices across different societies in the pre-industrial world.

For a country like Japan living standards were only 1/3 or ½ of those in Western Europe. But that was because in Japan people bathed every day, and they carefully separated human waste products from people. When they used human waste in agriculture they carefully treated it to eliminate bacteria. They swept the floors of their houses. They swept the streets. Japan was a very orderly, hygienic society. But that has the perverse effect in a Malthusian world that you can live, you can sustain the population, at a much lower subsistence level. Material consumption can be much less, yet people still survive, and enough children can be born that the population can be replenished in each generation.

Whereas if you look at pre-industrial Western Europe, these people lived truly filthy (laughs). Before 1800 in England, no one seems to have bathed! It was just a relatively rare activity. For example Samuel Pepys, who was a high English civil servant in the 1660s, kept a famously detailed diary for almost ten years. And he records every minutia of his life. That’s why it’s so fascinating for historians. In that entire time he records his wife having a bath once!

ILJ: Yes, it was like a big event! (laughs)

Clark: Yes, it’s a notable event! And he actually notes that she “pretends to becoming clean (laughs). But we’ll see how long that lasts!” And apparently she never again took another bath in this decade.

ILJ: (laughs)

Clark: And she wouldn’t let him come to bed with her that night because he was filthy. People didn’t bathe. Another thing is that in cities like London, what did people do with human waste? They stored it in their basement until it was emptied every few months by the night soil men. So they’re living on piles of shit in the richest areas of pre-industrial England. And Pepys again in his diary records going down into his basement when his neighbor’s waste storage has overflowed, and he’s stepping on turds!

It’s just very interesting how little attention Europeans paid to hygiene and the book argues that everything in a Malthusian world that kills off the population – plagues, war, disease - actually ends up making the population richer because fewer people have to die because of the misery of every day life and material existence. We can actually see that English living standards in 1450 where double those of the 18th century even though there was much less technological advance. The reason for that is because the “Black Death” was raging across Europe in that period.

ILJ: Just to follow up on that, if I interpret the data you present correctly, those who survived, and you coined the phrase “survival of the richest” in your book, enjoyed a superior standard of living because there were less people to divide the wealth among and they passed that wealth onto their descendants. Your contending that passing on wealth to offspring facilitated a culture of patience because for them survival wasn’t contingent upon immediate consumption. Do I have that right?

Clark: Yes. Pretty much. One of the implications of this Malthusian existence, and this is deeply embedded in this Malthusian picture of the world, is better economic conditions allow people to be more successful reproductively. Within any of these societies there is a huge range of living standards. There are very poor people and very rich people. Those rich people, because they enjoy so much better material consumption, should be able to produce many more surviving children. The way this happens is you have more living space, you have more food, more changes in clothing. You have cleaner water. So we would expect in this society we would have a Darwinian element. Only two children will survive to adulthood in any period of the pre-industrial world because the population can only change slowly. But amongst the rich you’ll have many more than two children surviving. Among the poor, many fewer. And we can observe this process when reviewing 16th and 17th century England. It’s a very strong process.

So the rich are taking over this society biologically. That leads to the question, does this get transmitted from one generation to the next? If you have the rich in one generation, are their children also likely to be rich? Are their children also likely to be successful economically and reproductively? It turns out we can show in England that’s the case.

This raises the intriguing possibility that if the rich are different from the poor, either culturally or genetically, then this process may be gradually transforming society because the rich and their descendants are taking over all the positions in society. So if it was a genetic advantage the rich had, there may actually be genetic changes in this long Malthusian interval between the arrival of settled agriculture and the Industrial Revolution.

It turns out we have very clear evidence of changes in peoples preferences over this long pre-industrial interval. The example the book gives is that people were becoming more patient as the Industrial Revolution approached. The measure of patience in these pre-industrial societies is the interest rates? Because the interest rate tells you much you have to reward people to own land or own houses. How much do you have to pay them not to consume immediately, but instead own that asset and wait for future consumption? If you go back to ancient Babylon they had mortgage markets but the interest rates were typically twenty to twenty-five percent. If you go to medieval Europe their interest rates were ten to twelve percent for things like land. By the eve of the Industrial Revolution the return on land in England dropped to about four percent. So in the pre-industrial world interest rates seem to indicate the amount of patience people are exhibiting.

ILJ: One element of your book I found ironic is your challenge to Adam Smith, considered the founding father of capitalism, who in 1776 published The Real Wealth of Nations. Smith postulated that the rule of tyrants and their institutions undermined incentive for productivity because the ruling class ultimately confiscated any wealth that was produced. You contend that pre-industrial England had plenty of incentive for producers, such as limited government and low taxes, yet prosperity still wasn’t generated. Hence, Smith who is identified with the ethos of limited government actually postulated that the ruling class can positively or negatively influence economic policy with activist government. Why do you believe Adam Smith was wrong about that?

Clark: Well, since I’ve published the book I’ve come under criticism from intellectual historians. So, I think what I should be careful to identify it’s the modern image we have of what Smith was about, rather than Smith himself. I’m not a historian of economic thought, so what I mainly want to emphasize is the message we’ve taken from Smith, the Smith we’ve constructed.

Smith is regarded as arguing that growth results from getting the correct economic incentives, which results from getting the right set of economic institutions. That’s really an incredibly strong founding principal of modern economics, the idea that people really are at base the same everywhere. If you can only get the incentives correct, then economic growth will result. So, the book strongly takes issue with that.

I’m saying that economists have had to construct a false history of the world. They’ve had to imagine a pre-industrial past that is, you know, a cross of Brave Heart and Monty Python’s Holy Grail and all the bad movies about medieval England. An image of rape, and pillage, disorder and violence, and serfs groaning under the weight of the lords emerged about medieval England.

My knowledge of medieval history, and this is one of the areas I’ve studied in detail, shows that picture is just unsustainable. If the World Bank was to now score medieval England against modern economies in any objective way, in terms of what are the incentives for production and for innovation, medieval England would score much more highly than somewhere like modern Sweden – which is a very rich and successful society. One way that shows up is, for example, in the average government tax rate for medieval England? It’s one percent. In low tax America we’re closer to forty percent, and in places like Sweden they’re even close to sixty percent in terms of how they’re taking from any extra earnings of the average wage earner.

Medieval England had absolute price stability. It had almost no government debt. It had very strong security of property. People who invested in land in local villages, who needed a ten percent return in order to make that investment, had absolute property security. We can see through the course of 500 years that lots of these land plots were transferred properly from one legal owner to another. They had a free market. And they had huge incentives. If you produced you ate, if you didn’t produce you starved. For example we can see from the records that in 1316-17, in the last great famine that England experienced, poor people died and the rich lived (laughs).

ILJ: (Laughs)

Clark: You had every incentive to acquire assets in this world. Assets could be the difference between life and death. And yet this was still a world with very, very slow economic growth. Almost none. So one of the things the book is saying is look, modern economics in some sense is a cult. It’s like pre-modern medicine, where you keep repeating these same ineffective treatments. They keep failing. In the book I provide lots of other instances where good economic institutions are not associated with economic growth. That’s why I’m saying there has to be some other thing required, and what the book is arguing is that there really are important cultural processes that take place before you get modern economic growth. If we neglect that we’re never going to understand the true nature of economic growth. And so we really need to move away from incentive explanations, and what the book is saying is that history is illuminating about this and we really need to know more about that history.

ILJ: Now if I interpret your book correctly, it’s your provocative contention that the industrial revolution happened in England ahead of Japan, China, India or her European rivals because of a cultural evolution instead of institutions established by the ruling class. Specifically this cultural evolution encompassed what we would term middle class or bourgeoisie values of thrift, hard work, nonviolence, negotiation and patience. Couldn’t one argue however that what really gave the English a leg up on their rivals was their superiority at imperialism, colonization and subjugation of other peoples for their material benefit?

Clark: Well, it is absolutely the case that the English were very successful colonists in this area. But the book is at pains to stress that the Industrial Revolution was home grown. It is the result of people in England innovating, introducing new processes in a way that they did not do earlier, as a result of changes in the culture. Not as a result of better incentives. And the book does acknowledge that events outside England, particularly England’s great access to food supplies from the Americas, its access to cotton from colonies, helped magnify that process. But the book strongly stresses that the break, the move toward higher productivity growth rates, is really a homegrown feature of England.

Further I go on to look at the relationship between England and India in the nineteenth century. India was England’s great colony in this period. Everything the English did, they didn’t mean it this way, but everything they did should have led to the industrialization of India. They were not systematically exploiting India. They were in fact offering India the enormous possibility of becoming the second great industrial power in the world. That didn’t happen, but it wasn’t because of anything the British did. It was because of what happened internally in India. Because of India’s weak responses to the new incentives the British Empire offered. And so the book says look, it’s not that the imperialists had any kind of good motives, it’s not that we should admire them in anyway, but in the case of something like British imperialism, it was actually, if you believe modern economics, it was actually a force for rapid world economic development and that Britain gained very little directly from its colonies. Most of Britain’s gains actually came from Britain’s internal processes of economic change.

ILJ: It seems to me you have adroitly combined elements of the classic nature/nurture divide. You’re contending that the intrinsic human characteristics of a growing economy were nurtured in England and became part of that society’s DNA – that so called middle class values were passed on almost genetically. And then around eighteen hundred, after years of this cultural development, a critical mass was achieved and the industrial revolution happened. But wasn’t pre-industrial Japan a civil society with laws and customs that resembled England’s? Couldn’t it be argued that England had advantages transcending culture over the Japanese such as a more powerful imperial empire? I know you’re saying it’s home grown and you do acknowledge in your book some of the outside cultural advantages England had. But couldn’t one argue that those outside forces were even more powerful than what was homegrown since there was many parallels between Japanese and English society?

Oh yes. The interesting thing is that there were actually surprising parallels between England and Japan in this period. But what the book says, I want to emphasize, is that the Industrial Revolution was going to occur somewhere. There were a bunch of societies that all seemed to be moving in the same direction. One of them was going to achieve the breakthrough into modern industrial society. And there were element also of luck and accidents in that. But England on most of these dimensions was the society that had moved furthest along.

So if you compare England and Japan you can see similar kind of processes in England and Japan. But that Japan looks like England three hundred to four hundred years earlier. The book is contending that if England never had an Industrial Revolution, then likely somewhere like Japan within three hundred or four hundred years would’ve actually made that breakthrough towards a modern world. There were just accidents of British history that gave the English the lead, and one of them was that the demographic system in pre-industrial England really created an enormous reproductive advantage for the upper classes. In Japan, their demographic system only created a modest advantage for the Samurai class. Consequently, there wasn’t the same kind of cascade downward into the merchants and mechanics ranks of the excess children of the upper classes that you get in someone like England. And so the book is still sympathetic to accident and contingency, but it’s saying you can still see a pattern. Another feature of England is the incredible stability of the English economy. It’s actually internally very boring from the Middle Ages on.

ILJ: (Laughs)

Clark: And that’s one of the reasons England is so incredibly well documented is because nothing ever gets destroyed! (laughs)

ILJ: (Laughs)

Clark: Even the Civil War results in almost no destruction for the economy … the Civil War of 1642. So one of the things this allows is for these basic demographic processes that are changing the composition of the English population to be much more rapid than in other societies where there is more disruption, invasion, chaos which disrupts these demographic processes. But the basic thing the book emphasizes is that this was a common trend across long settled agrarian pre-industrial societies. That China, Japan and England are not that different by the time you get to 1800 but England is further along in this process.

ILJ: Your postulating that only long established stable societies develop the necessary cultural characteristics for economic growth. It seems to me that a society’s economic development is influenced by so many variables, such as geography, access to fresh water, whether or not a society has been conquered or how long they’ve been subjugated, profoundly influences whether or not that society develops the cultural characteristics needed for economic growth. For all the impressive data your presenting - and it should be noted that your peers do not dispute your data, they’re very impressed by what you’ve done - isn’t it a leap of logic to say that culture is the cause of economic growth instead of those variables determined by fate which influence culture? How can we really know if it’s the chicken or the egg?

Clark: Oh yeah. This is always a problem. Again, to be clear the book is saying when we look at the modern world it’s beginning to resemble again the world pre- 1800. The great actors of economic life are beginning to look like those of 1800. It’s Europe and European offsprings. East Asia and East Asian offsprings that are becoming the world’s great economic powers again, and that looks exactly like the world before 1800.

But the argument of the book is that was because the long histories of these societies gave them an enduring cultural advantage in terms of modern economic competition. The puzzle then that comes up is why did these societies have such long histories of agrarian settlement. That’s when you might say that maybe Jared Diamond could be right in terms of saying geographical advantages these places had in the beginning gave them much longer access to settled agrarian society. And so when you come down to it, the book seems to be posing a mechanism by which these societies have an advantage that is completely different from the one that Jared Diamond suggests. But in the end, I will admit, you can still think geography played a role. But not current geography. Now it turns out we’re in a world where most societies have equal access in terms of geography and the possibilities of economic growth. Maybe some landlocked African economies don’t. But most, a huge number do have equal access now. But I am not denying there maybe geographical advantages in the distant past that may have moved groups from hunter gatherers to agrarian societies in Europe and in China much earlier than in other parts of the world.

ILJ: Fair enough. Professor Clark you’ve been very generous with your time. A final question if I may sir. Assuming all your conclusions about the importance of culture in facilitating the industrial revolution are correct, what lessons can we draw from history as we try to influence economic growth in the underdeveloped world in the 21st century?

Clark: Well, the lesson is unfortunately a little pessimistic. But I think one thing that is important is that for fifty years institutions like the World Bank have been applying the same kind of medicine. And it’s like pre-industrial doctors, you try bloodletting, and when it doesn’t work, you conclude let’s do more bloodletting.

ILJ: (Laughs)

Clark: And there is this emphasis now, it seems, a very strong emphasis, on achieving good government in a bunch of African societies which really have a hard time maintaining Western style governments. But yet when you look you see someone like China growing very rapidly with a very corrupt government, terrible social institutions, and the rule of law really evaded on a massive scale (laughs).

ILJ: (Laughs)

Clark: And so when you see this you think maybe to focus all your energies on institutions is not the way to go. What the very clear problem, say, within these African societies, is that even inside production enterprises it’s very hard to get people to cooperate in production in a way that makes workers have high value. And the shocking thing that’s occurred recently is that in Zambia and Malawi, where Chinese entrepreneurs have moved into these very poor African countries, wages are much lower now then they are in most of China. But they’ve actually been importing Chinese workers in factories in sub-Saharan Africa.

ILJ: That’s ironic.

Clark: And encountering a lot of local opposition. The puzzle then is it seems just very hard to get people to cooperate effectively in production in these societies. I think that says this is an area where we really must examine what is going on here. One interesting idea is that the nature of modern technology is very demanding in terms of how careful workers have to be, how exactly they have to follow rules. So one thing to think of is there any way to develop other technologies more forgiving of the cultural histories of these societies? Another thing to look at is if we expose workers more to the kind of Western high income economic life and send them back would that actually help in changing workers attitudes and changing the economic life of those societies? But I don’t have any simple recipe for economic growth, and anyone who does is someone you should avoid.

ILJ: (Laughs)

Clark: I do think that we’re looking in the wrong place, and have been systematically. And it’s the ideology of economics that pushes us there but it’s very clear that it is the wrong place. So it’s at least worth considering, given the true constraints, what can we do? How can we operate? What are the processes we can set in place? And if we are going to solve the problem of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, the solution is going to come in a very different form then the followers of Adam Smith are going to accept.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Chicken-Hawk Limbaugh Maligns Troops

Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.

Old Glory Rooster

Well, that didn't take long. As I said on the occasion of the Senate's censure of

They are not interested in protecting the troops from criticism any more than they are in providing for their actual needs. They are only interested in protecting their political "tools," which is exactly what General Petraeus is.

Republicans will continue to aid and abet attacks on any service member, active duty or retired, who does not spout GOP talking points, or dares to criticize the neocon agenda.

Leave it to Rush "Boil On His Butt" Limbaugh, to unload his venom on all the troops who don't share the grand neocon vision. As per Media Matters:

LIMBAUGH: There's a lot more than that that they don't understand. They can't even -- if -- the next guy that calls here, I'm gonna ask him: Why should we pull -- what is the imperative for pulling out? What's in it for the United States to pull out? They can't -- I don't think they have an answer for that other than, "Well, we just gotta bring the troops home."

CALLER 2: Yeah, and, you know what --

LIMBAUGH: "Save the -- keep the troops safe" or whatever. I -- it's not possible, intellectually, to follow these people.

CALLER 2: No, it's not, and what's really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media.

LIMBAUGH: The phony soldiers.

CALLER 2: The phony soldiers. If you talk to a real soldier, they are proud to serve. They want to be over in Iraq. They understand their sacrifice, and they're willing to sacrifice for their country.

Yes, from the man who could not serve his country in Vietnam, because of an anal fissure, a delightful new term: "phony soldier." Pretty horrifying, especially when you consider just how many of those "phony" soldiers are taking it in the shorts in this misbegotten adventure. Yes, a good number of the troops who are actually doing the fighting and the dying are really phonies, by Mr. Limbaugh's standard.

Media Matters cites the New York Times op-ed by seven 82nd Airborne soldiers who expressed their disenchantment with our Iraq involvement and conclusion that we need to withdraw and let the Iraqis regain their dignity by ending our occupation of that country. Two of those seven "phony soldiers" have already paid the ultimate price in Iraq.

But those seven soldiers are just the tip the of the "phony" iceberg floating in our armed services. As of December of last year, it is the minority of our active-duty military who agree with Bush's policies in Iraq. Washington Monthly quotes an E&P article, which is no longer extant on its servers:

Barely one in three service members approve of the way the president is handling the war, according to the new poll for the four papers (Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Times). In another startling finding, only 41% now feel it was the right idea to go to war in Iraq in the first place.

And the number who feel success there is likely has shrunk from 83% in 2004 to about 50% today. A surprising 13% say there should be no U.S. troops in Iraq at all. [...]

Nearly three-quarters of the respondents think today's military is stretched too thin to be effective.

That poll did not, apparently, address the idea of a phased withdrawal from Iraq. An earlier Zogby poll did. When offered a range of questions on the subject, 72% favored some schedule of withdrawal spanning a year. So, by that poll, 72% of our troops are "phony."

Here are some things a chicken-hawk like Mr. Limbaugh cannot possibly understand. Just because our troops are committed to completing whatever mission is assigned to them does not automatically mean that they support the politics behind it. They commit to do what their country, through its representatives, asks of them, and put party and politics aside. That is how our professional military is set up; to be an apolitical institution. The disenchantment we are currently seeing in our military has to do with the increasing sense of futility about the overall mission.

Spc. Don Roberts told the AP, "I don't know what could help at this point..... What would more guys do? We can't pick sides. It's almost like we have to watch them kill each other, then ask questions."

Sgt. Josh Keim, who is on his second tour in Iraq, said, "Nothing's going to help. It's a religious war, and we're caught in the middle of it. It's hard to be somewhere where there's no mission and we just drive around."

Sgt. Justin Thompson added that a troop surge is "not going to stop the hatred between Shia and Sunni." Thompson, whose 4-year contract was involuntarily extended in June, added, "This is a civil war, and we're just making things worse. We're losing. I'm not afraid to say it."

As much as Mr. Limbaugh might want to dismiss those soldiers from the Army's 5th Battalion as "phony," they are real and they represent a growing number of troops who do not think they can be effective in Iraq. By judging our troops according to a political litmus test -- and alternately lionizing and bashing them based on how they represent the GOP agenda -- Limbaugh and his ilk demonstrate their total lack of understanding about what honor really means.

Likewise, the Senate, including 22 Democratic members, completely misconstrued what was saying with the ad they wasted time and our tax dollars condemning. General Petraeus has betrayed the American people by acting as exactly the kind of political tool that the UCMJ forbids him from becoming.

So, will the Senate be condemning Rush Limbaugh for his scurrilous attack on those military members who have dared to question the efficacy of our Iraq policy? I won't hold my breath.

Why Gays In Iran Don’t Wear Burqas.

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane, Bilerico Project & My Left Wing

click to enlarge

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chickenhawks, Chickenshits, Cowardly Candidates and a Craven Congress, Aint That America?

The progress being made in our 4 1/2 year war of terror on Iraq is phenomenal. So impressive are our recent gains that the "top tier" Democratic candidates who have lined up in competition to become the heirs of this great struggle for freedom, for Middle Eastern democracy, for oil and gas rights for western corporations and of course for lucrative contracts in arms sales and private security for campaign contributors, last night went way out on a limb and declared their goal of removing our troops from the quagmire in Mesopotamia by the end of their first term in office in 2013.

Despite their boldness, they did not report whether or not they could guarantee the colonization of Mars, a cure for cancer, or flying pigs within that time frame.

The Congress of the United States of America, a legislative body established by the American Constitution over two centuries ago has declared itself to be toothless, spineless and ultimately meaningless. Yesterday they condemned a reputable political organization for running a completely truthful newspaper ad and voted to declare the military of a sovereign nation a terrorist organization in order to present their Fuhrer with a gift wrapped excuse for his next adventure.

They were asked by Bush's Defense Secretary for an additional 190 billion ($190,000,000,000) dollars to continue their criminal enterprises in Iraq and Afghanistan and despite the fact that a sizable majority of the people of our country want to end this war, the cowardly swine will approve it. That will bring the total publicly reported expenditures to 800 billion dollars ($800,000,000,000). Most of this has been spent, squandered, swindled, bamboozled away since our chief arrogant little asswipe stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declared that the mission had been accomplished.

Hell, they sacked one of our principle Generals at the outset of this insanity for declaring that the war would cost as much as 25 billion when Rumsfeld and Cheney's various staff were reporting that it could be done for seven billion which would be financed through the sale of, get this,Iraqi Oil.

Congress will of course, make another face saving gesture and ask for full progress reports, which will be dutifully drawn up by the neocon advertising/marketing/propaganda staff in the white House and fed to an "ass kissing little chicken shit" general for presentation to our parliament of gutless wonders and we will continue, down the same path following some vague vanishing point into a future where the only things that are certain are the deaths of thousands more of our troops and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.

Since our current crop of wars of empire are progressing so swimmingly (as planned at the highest levels) they now are preparing to embroil us in another war with Iran and this time they plan to pull out all the stops and use the nukes that they have been slathering over all these long years.

Last week on television, I witnessed a room full of mostly young college students sit pacifically and watch passively as a half dozen hired goons brutalized another student with Tasers, for speaking. For Speaking.

I felt that I was seeing a vision of America's future.

No matter what this criminal government and their corporate masters do, no matter what the excess, no matter what the crime, no matter what horrors they commit in our name the people of this country are sitting, sitting as acquiescently as that room full of meek children, sitting and cowering in the face of authority.

America in the first decade of the twenty first century is beginning to look a lot like Germany in the third decade of the last century and I'm beginning to be relieved that this is my last decade.

Bob Higgins
Worldwide Sawdust

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Iran has a long history of using pastels!

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane, Bilerico Project & My Left Wing

click to enlarge
Again, Ahmadinejad’s idiot comments about the non-existance of Gays in Iran is just as stupid as damn near anything Reich Marshal Bush has to say.

Of course, it could be a back-handed compliment. Ahmadinejad may have meant there were no Gays in Iran because they all went courageously to Iraq to fight the occupiers.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Who Is The White Man in Ahmadinejad’s Court?

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane, Bilerico Project & My Left Wing

click to enlarge
I have been reading a lot of translations of Ahmadinejad's speeches and they parallel Bush's speeches. I find it amazing the two can both be so disconnected from reality or skilled in propaganda.

Maybe they have the same strategist? Maybe Karl Rove is lending Mahmoud a helping hand? Seriously, Bush has made America more like Iran than any Iranian ever could.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A dog party! A big dog party!

Just a little something fun that I thought I'd share...

It's not often that I find myself with the time, or the inclination to write about anything these days. I've got a busy work schedule--which is about to get busier for the next couple weeks. We've got an IEP to sort out, with a "resource" teacher who is in desperate need of education on Asperger's Syndrome. (Probably also in need of an attitude adjustment.) We've got a daughter who, on her twelfth birthday (earlier this month) announced that she was becoming a vegetarian, without having dropped any hints that she might be inclined to do such a thing. This is a girl who, when she first began combining words, memorably said "More beef!" So that has been yet another new complication in a life that is already plenty complicated, thank you very much! And politics? Pffft! Don't get me started...

So, where was I? Oh yeah...

The "Doggie Paddle" (a fundraiser for a local dog park) was actually supposed to take place two weeks ago, but was cancelled due to rain early in the afternoon. Once the rain had cleared, Daughter and I put Winnie in the car and headed up to the pool. When we arrived, there had only been a few cars there--belonging to other disappointed dog owners who were discovering that the event had been cancelled.

The next week, I was pleased to learn that the event had been rescheduled, and as we pulled up to the pool yesterday, we were met with a decidedly full parking lot. And a quick look inside the park revealed lots of dogs having a good time. I couldn't help thinking of the scene at the end of Go, Dog, Go by P.D. Eastman (who Daughter in Ohio, as a toddler, called A. B. Beastman).

A dog party!
A big dog party!
Big dogs, little dogs,
red dogs, blue dogs,
yellow dogs, green dogs,
black dogs, and white dogs
are all at a dog party!
What a dog party!
Of course, the dogs at the pool were just the ordinary dog colors, and they weren't partying at the top of a tree, but it was definitely a dog party. And a good, wet, time was had by all.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I didn't know ahead of time that people would be getting in the water with their dogs, or I would have had Daughter bring her swimsuit. So I just decided we wouldn't worry about her clothes getting wet. After all, this isn't something she gets to do very often.

Remember Dances With Wolves? When I saw this picture, it occurred to me that Daughter's name could be Swims With Rottweilers. ;)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

That's Winnie on the left. She wasn't into the whole water thing, but had a great time meeting new dogs. And in the last half hour of our three hours there, she did finally venture into the shallow water.

Anyway, about that work schedule I mentioned above... Tomorrow evening I'm teaching two sections of introductory psychology back-to-back. Tuesday I start a two-week temp project because, well, we need the income, so I couldn't very well turn it down when it was offered. But working full time hours and then teaching three evening classes--that'll kind of suck. But at least it's time-limited. A lot of people live like this all the time. But apparently, Bush thinks that's fantastic. And "uniquely American".

Asking Questions about Black Disenfranchment - can get you arrested, and tased

Don't Tase Me Bro!

Maybe there is a reason why some whites are scared to ask questions of Democrats regarding the failure of government to address issues of concern of black folks. Take for an example the Florida student, Andrew Meyer, 21, who recently asked questions of John Kerry a former Anti-War activist regarding Black Voter Disenfranchising. Check out how John Kerry continues to talk as the student gets tassed for asking questions regarding black voter suppression and his membership in skull and bones. Major media like MSNBC covered the issue of how police officers pulled Meyer away from the microphone after he asked Kerry about impeaching President Bush and whether he and Bush were both members of the secret society Skull and Bones at Yale University - failing to comment about the black voter issue. Citizen reporters with cell phone and video cameras were able to get pictures of the incident from every angle.

MSNBC reports Meyer was arrested on charges of resisting an officer and disturbing the peace, according to Alachua County jail records, but the State Attorney’s Office had yet to make the formal charging decision. Police recommended charges of resisting arrest with violence, a felony, and disturbing the peace and interfering with school administrative functions, a misdemeanor.

Kerry speaks out

MSNBC also reports Kerry said Tuesday he regretted that a healthy discussion was interrupted and that he never had a dialogue end that way in 37 years of public appearances. He also said he hoped neither the student nor police were injured.

“Whatever happened, the police had a reason, had made their decision that there was something they needed to do. Then it’s a law enforcement issue, not mine,” he told The Associated Press in Washington.

WTF, I gave a significant (maximum allowable) contribution to the Kerry Campaign. His failure to answer the questions of this college student, his failure to get elected, his poor campaigning style, and his failure to show integrity in this situation makes me want to say: "John Kerry, Give me my 2004 Presidential Campaign Contribution back."

Hell, maybe back in the day, when John Kerry went before Congress, as a Anti War Veteran, maybe he should have been tasered (although the technology was not available at that time) by Capitol Police.

Then, maybe, just maybe, he would think differently when a student like Myers get his Freedom of Speech Rights taken away, John Kerry would have the guts to speak up. And ask the officers to stop!

But why should John Kerry ask police to stop, and let the student continue with his questions? He would have to talk about the critical question asked by Myers, the issue black folks right to vote, to a group of white Florida students.

Chilling Impact

I guess this incident will have a chilling impact on liberal whites speaking out against the violation of the rights of blacks in this country. What do you think?

watch this videos HERE



and HERE

For more discussion and opinion on this and other issues Click HERE - visit and join your new link to African American Opinion and Social Networking on the web.

jena 6, big box bloggers 0

cross-posted at skippy and a veritable cornucopia of other community blogs.

via jon swift guesting at c&l, we find pam's house blend having a quite astute realization that none, that would be zero, zip, zilch, nada, goose egg, null set, absence of anything, of the big box blogs have had anything to say about the jena 6:

chris kromm of the institute for southern studies and its blog facing south, is appalled, rightfully so, at the sparse coverage of the historic march for justice in jena, lousiana.

it's not to say that it isn't being covered in the blogosphere at all -- black bloggers have largely been responsible for the high profile of this case, picking up the ball where the melanin-challenged blogs of influence have dropped it. you'd think that the events today, which are being covered by the msm, would mean that the story is now mainstream blogworthy, but you would be wrong. chris:

dailykos features a handful of posts about injustice in iraq today -- but not a single entry on its main page, or even its user-generated "diaries," about this important case.

talkingpointsmemo, a favorite of the dc wonk set, is similarly incensed about foreign policy, but apparently not about racial justice in the south -- nothing there either.

long-time progressive blogger atrios doesn't have a lot of posts up,but found time to touch on paul krugman, iraq and the state of the euro -- but not this major issue.

surely talkleft -- which has positioned itself as the leading progressive blog about criminal justice issues -- would have something? think again -- not a single mention, not even in the quick news briefs!

what about another progressive favorite, firedoglake? a rant about republicans being "little bitches," but nothing on the jena 6.

when the jena 6 does make an appearance on progressive blogs today, it's little more than a passing nod. huffington post has a blog post buried below the fold; thinkprogress gives it a two-sentence news brief.

[ed. note: the today pam refers to is last thursday, the day of the huge march and demonstration in jena]

however, many of these blogs are eagerly pointing to news stories which suggest the republican candidates don't care about black issues.

[btw, nothing's up at americablog either, to be fair. my guest blogging stint is by and large up.] what is the explanation? oh, i could think of several, but overt racism isn't one of them. i have a couple of theories.

her theories are not kind (not that they should be), but worthy of thought. we suggest you go read her rant en toto (and dorothy, too), and the comments left thereon.

we admit we were late to the party ourselves, at first employing the instapundit excuse (duh! too complicated fer our little brains! hyuk! hyuk!), but then we found (via susie madrak) the great background piece by gil kaufman on mtv news, which was succinct, thorough, well-laid out, and easy to follow.

(commenters on pam's blog also point out msnbc's piece, also quite comprehensive.)

now, it is, to be fair, 4 days after the massive march, but some of those big box blogs have jumped on the bandwagon:

talkleft has three posts, including one "jena six thread";

c&l, our fav bbb, has seven posts, three of which are blog round-up compilations, all guested by non-staff members [ed. note: it turns out blue gal has been promoted to front page status at c&l, making our assertion of "guested by non-staff members" wrong, and our congratulations to her overdue];

tpm has one, count 'em, one story, about how fred thompson is out of the loop on the jena six (hello, pot? this is kettle...)

tpm cafe has one;

dkos (aside from the facing south cross-post pam alluded to) has three front page stories which include the words "jena six," two of which are open threads (but several, upwards to 50, diaries by members, including some asking why blogtopia* is so lax about this story);

fdl has one story, but at least it is from the ground at jena, and pam reports that jane told her there were technical difficulties getting the report from the blogger in jena;

huffpo cross-posted susie's piece, and had another post;

way down at the bottom of the list, americablog has zero, still; and, to a lesser extent, duncan.

go back to the comments section on pam's house blend and there you will find plenty of smaller blogs plugging their own efforts. it does seem to us that here the smaller entities in blogtopia* have picked up the ball dropped by the bbb.

another reason to keep clicking those links to the esoteric blogs you've never heard of before.

now, we're not about to accuse anybody in blogtopia* of unconscious bigotry. that would be easy. and we hate unconscious bigots. we'll never rent to them, or let them into our schools.

but it seems to us, that if we are to call ourselves progressives, it behooves us all to make the extra effort to be inclusive. and for god's sake, how hard can that be in this case? all you have to do is do some reading, and make a frickin' link, and voila! your readers become a little more aware of a tragic situation that the mmm is refusing to delve deeply into.

*and yes, we coined that phrase!

Little Russ Got It Wrong

This morning I watched Tim Russert of Meet the Press, interview Senator Hillary Clinton. As one might expect, Russert challenged Clinton's numerous contortions about Iraq since 2002. Russert did a good job and perhaps I’m nitpicking but this error on his part stuck in my craw. Russert replayed Senator Clinton’s October 10, 2002 speech on the Senate floor. It’s a speech many of us bloggers have heard or read many times before, this passage in particular:

“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”
After playing the video Russert noted that:
“As we sit here this morning, Saddam rebuilding a nuclear weapons program, just not true; giving aid and sanctuary to al-Qaeda, debatable. .”
It is not debatable whether Saddam gave aid or sanctuary to Al Quaeda. The topic below was originally posted in my blog, the Intrepid Liberal Journal.

The Washington Post, which has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for the neocons, and the Iraq War from the beginning reported the following on June 17, 2004:
“The Sept. 11 commission reported yesterday that it has found no 'collaborative relationship' between Iraq and al Qaeda, challenging one of the Bush administration's main justifications for the war in Iraq.”
Perhaps Russert misspoke when he said, “debatable” but the record needs to be corrected. Far too many Americans continue to believe Al Quaeda and Saddam Hussein had a relationship and justify the Iraq War because of it. This is not “debatable.”

Click here to let Tim Russert know he made a mistake and has a responsibility to correct the record.