Liberalism Is In

Americans have grown more concerned about the gap between rich and poor. Support for the social safety net has grown too, while our military appetite has shrunk, according to a recent Pew survey of public opinion.

More Americans agree with the assessment that "today it's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer." Today, 73% feel that way, up from 65% five years ago.

It follows that more of us believe the government should take care of people who can't take care of themselves. Fifty-four percent of Americans say the government should help more needy people, even if it adds to the national debt, compared to just 41 percent in 1994.

Just five years ago, 43 percent of of us identified as Republicans, and same for Democrats. Now 35 percent identify as Republicans, and half the country as Democrats.

Also, racism and homophobia are both down. More than 83 percent agree that "it's all right for blacks and whites to date," up six percentage points since 2003 and 13 points from 10 years ago. The number of people who believe that school boards should have the right to fire gay teachers is at 28 percent, down from 51 percent in 1987.

The MoJo summary of all of the above: Americans are getting in touch with reality.

But the sad part may be that "the public is losing confidence in itself." The percent agreeing that Americans "can always find a way to solve our problems" has dropped 16 points in five years. Americans feel more and more estranged from their government. Barely a third would agree that "most elected officials care what people like me think," a 10-point drop since 2002. Saddest of all, young people, who have the rosiest view of government, are the least interested in voting or other political participation.

Maybe President Bush genuinely wants to solve the United States' immigration woes, or maybe he's grasping for another hot-button (hate) issue to drum up conservative support. Today, he proposed immigration reforms in Yuma, Arizona, which were a far cry more punitive than those he advocated last year. A 3-year work visa would cost an immigrant $3,500—a sum beyond the imaginings of most rural Mexicans looking for grunt work in the United States. To get a green card, workers would have to return to their home countries, apply for reentry, and pay a $10,000 fine. The proposal brought 10,000 Latinos to the streets of Los Angeles.

Just two weeks ago, I blogged about a Los Angeles Times article that suggested that last year's immigration legislation (sans the fence that, thankfully, has not materialized) has brought illegal border crossings down. The article took the number of illegals caught to be representative of the total number. Bush today made the same point: Fewer caught crossers is good news. But, as Think Progress points out, a year and a half ago, Bush pointed to increased apprehensions as a positive indicator of Border Patrol's performance. As with drugs, the government can manipulate "apprehension" statistics however it wants. (In my previous blog post, I cited Charles Bowden's assertion in "Exodus" that "On the line, all numbers are fictions. The exportation of human beings by Mexico now reaches, officially, a half million souls a year. Or double that. Or triple that.")

If illegal immigration is indeed waning on its own, why are we talking about it now? Wouldn't the war on terror—which we're losing—be a better policy to rehash? But here I seem to have answered my own question: Yes, it would. Bush tactic: Distract; dissemble; drum up hate for some other group. If illegal immigration isn't waning—which seems far more likely—doesn't that beg the question, again, of why we're not addressing its causes like the European Union does?

Newt Gingrich, who would like to be the GOP presidential candidate, is is now calling for Attorney General Gonzales to quit before things get any worse. "This is the most mishandled, artificial, self-created mess that I can remember in the years I've been active in public life," Gingrich said of the US attorney firing scandal. "The buck has to stop somewhere, and I'm assuming it's the attorney general and his immediate team." If he stays, said the former Speaker, there will be endless hearings.

Other Republicans who want Gonzales out include Senators John Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon Smith of Oregon, along with Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher of California, Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and Lee Terry of Nebraska.

I blogged earlier about the thousands of Moqtada al-Sadr followers who protested the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad in Najaf today.

Well, it appears there is a major dispute over how many "thousands" were actually there. According to this CNN article, the U.S. military's estimate is "5,000 to 7,000." According to this Reuters article that I cited earlier, it is "tens of thousands." And according to this Agence France-Presse article and this BBC article the number of participants is in the "hundreds of thousands." If that's true, did the military really think they were going to fool anybody with that "5,000 to 7,000" nonsense?

Hoo-boy. Who to believe? We'll keep digging...

An Iraqi official who has served as Iraq's trade, defense, and finance minister at various times since 2003 has written a book about his country's four years under the American occupation ("The Occupation of Iraq," published by Yale University Press). According to the AP, it is a detached and nonpartisan look at the United States' and Iraqi government's failings.

Ali Allawi, cousin to former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, was educated in the United States and Britain and demonstrates no preference for the Sunni or Shiite sects within Iraqi society and its badly divided government (he belongs to a secularist political party). He slams a lot of people, but most of all the Americans.

Snippets of Allawi's book, from the AP:

"The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt state of the new order."
First came the "monumental ignorance" of those in Washington pushing for war in 2002 without "the faintest idea" of Iraq's realities. "More perceptive people knew instinctively that the invasion of Iraq would open up the great fissures in Iraqi society," he writes.
What followed was the "rank amateurism and swaggering arrogance" of the occupation, under L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which took big steps with little consultation with Iraqis, steps Allawi and many others see as blunders.

The lies that led to war and the missteps after the invasion that led to failure are all documented in the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.

On U.S. reconstruction failures — in electricity, health care and other areas documented by Washington's own auditors — Allawi writes that the Americans' "insipid retelling of 'success' stories" merely hid "the huge black hole that lay underneath."

There have been a lot of great books about the Iraq War, from Ron Suskind to Thomas Ricks to Michael Gordon to Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Now it looks like there is an Iraqi equivalent.

Tens of thousands of people marched in Najaf today to protest the continued American occupation, exactly four years after the fall of Baghdad. (No protests were allowed in Baghdad because the U.S. military shut down the streets.) The protest was anti-American all the way, with chants of "Leave, leave occupier!" and "No, no, to the occupation." The event was organized (or called for, anyway) by Moqtada al-Sadr, and one of his key deputies spoke, saying, "We demand the exit of the occupier and withdrawal of the last American soldier and we also reject the existence of any kind of military bases."

In my mind the most important thing here, after the fact that there is yet more evidence that the Iraqis want nothing to do with us, is the fact that it was a peaceful event. It's safe to say that the majority of the participants were Shiites because al-Sadr is a radical Shiite cleric and major Shiite political player. But the Sunnis stayed away from what was essentially a massive target practice opportunity. Possible reasons: (1) al-Sadr cut some kind of deal, (2) the one thing that brings Iraqis together is hating Americans, or (3) both.

Couple this new sense of cooperation with the face that al-Sadr, who is possibly the most powerful man in Iraq, has called on Iraqis to cease attacking one another to instead focus on killing Americans, and we've got an even more hostile environment in which American forces must operate. Who thought that was even possible?

Update: The number of attendees is in dispute, with estimates ranging from 5,000 to "hundreds of thousands."

A thirty-foot pole with a robotic arm on top sits on a street corner in the town of San Pedro, outside Los Angeles. As pedestrians walk by, a giant eye at the end of the arm tracks them with a stream of light.

People are concerned. Is there a camera involved? Is this the newest form of public surveillance in an era of already-compromised civil liberties? Or is it a simple prank?

Actually, it's a public art piece. And it's name? Mojo.

Read more about how Mother Jones is driving the Orwellian future here. (PS - Can we sue for copyright infringement?)

Read about this and other weird weather phenomena on our environmental blog, The Blue Marble.

disney.jpg
Disney has at last opened their Disney "Fairy Tale Weddings" to same-sex couples. Which means a gay or lesbian couple can now too arrive at their ceremony in a glass coach pulled by four dappled-gray mares, and they can even have Mickey and Minnie Mouse in attendance.

Folks at Disney apparently had a change of heart after last month asserting that a Florida marriage license was mandatory for the Disney World ceremonies that can also take place at the "It's a Small World Mall" and that come complete with a "fairy godplanner."

"We believe this change is consistent with Disney's longstanding policy of welcoming every guest in an inclusive environment," Disney Parks and Resorts spokesman Donn Walker said earlier today. "We want everyone who comes to celebrate a special occasion at Disney to feel welcome and respected."

Yeah, that, and Disney is looking at the bottom line. The Fortune 500 company seems to have finally realized that there is cash money to be made from opening their $8,000 and up wedding operation up to a relatively affluent population. Cameron brings home this economic argument in our current issue:

If half the same-sex couples now living together were to get married (the rate seen in Vermont and Massachusetts) and were to spend a quarter of what straight couples do, it results in a wedding-industry boon of $2 billion.

Cha-ching.

Unclear what the fallout will be from the right. The Southern Baptist Convention enforced a boycott of Disney for years for its "gay agenda," which includes providing health benefits to same-sex partners of employees, and the airing of a primetime show on its ABC network featuring, gasp, Ellen!

The convention dropped its boycott in 2005; but now that Mickey and Minnie will be cheering on gay marriage? We'll see what happens.

al_sadr.jpg I blogged in February that insurgents' discovery of chlorine bombs was an especially ominous turn in Iraq—optimistic assessments of the "surge" notwithstanding—because the bombs have far higher death tolls than standard I.E.D.'s.

Today the sixth chlorine bomb in 2 months exploded in Anbar province. A chlorine-laden truck bomb in Ramadi killed 20 and wounded at least 30.

The only believable good news regarding the surge was a drop in the death toll between mid-February and mid-March. In reality, the drop was likely due to Moktada al-Sadr's order that his Mahdi Army militia cease resisting the Americans by violent means.

Even though the military hasn't come right out and told the press that al-Sadr is responsible for the surge's apparent success, they know he is. Last week, the military released a key aide to al-Sadr, which the Sacramento Bee called "a sure sign U.S. officials are working hard to keep al-Sadr's support for the Baghdad security plan." Al-Sadr has called for a demonstration against the American occupation on April 9 and ejected two associates who met with Americans, but he has continued to say that his followers should not resist the security surge by violent means.

So why is the U.S. killing civilians and militiamen in al-Sadr's home turf of Sadr City? Earlier today, U.S. and Iraqi forces raided residential neighborhoods there. They killed 4 and wounded 3 militiamen. But they didn't stop there. After distributing pamphlets encouraging people to cooperate with security forces, American helicopters fired missiles that wounded 15 civilians. The New York Times reports, "American forces later fired on a Toyota sedan, killing all three passengers inside. And two students were killed by mortar when Americans fired on a college residence by mistake, Iraqi police said."

What? What kind of perverse incentive is that to retain the (albeit lukewarm) cooperation of the Sadrists? Predictably, a representative of al-Sadr's group—which is big and powerful—expressed anger and confusion. Haydar Al Natiq, of the Sadr office in Diwaniya, told the Times, "This operation is unjustified and will stir up the situation in the time where a peace conference was supposed to be held between the Sadrists and the security forces."