Mojo - February 2012

The Army's Gold-Plated Guns: $200 Million-Plus

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 7:14 AM EST

Your tax dollars at work: US ArmyYour tax dollars at work: US Army photoMark Thompson of Time's Battleland blog flagged a funny-looking item Monday from the Pentagon's daily contracting announcements—click to embiggen:

As Thompson points out, a $77.4 million contract for 900 machine guns would come out to $86,000 a pop. That's a deal even Blackwater and KBR would envy!

But not so fast: After calling up the Army's public affairs folks, Thompson learned that the multi-million-dollar pricetag is the cost ceiling for several years' worth of orders on the guns; once future shipments are factored in, the max cost of each weapon should be closer to $8,600—which still is quite a bit more than that Colt .45 your dad takes to his tea party rallies. (Of course, you get a lot more firepower at the higher price point, which is why you should talk your dad out of joining the Oathkeepers and going Rambo on the government anytime soon.)

Three lessons from this affair:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 7, 2012

Tue Feb. 7, 2012 6:57 AM EST

A US Army CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter takes off on February 4, 2012 from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. The primary missions for Chinooks are troop movement, artillery emplacement, and combat resupply. US Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht.

The Oregon Bill That Would Criminalize Twitter

| Mon Feb. 6, 2012 9:54 PM EST

UPDATE: The Oregonian reports that the bill died in committee today.

Under a bill debated today in Oregon, that tweet could be illegal.

The bill, SB 1534, would make it a felony to use "electronic communication to solicit two or more persons to commit [a] specific crime at [a] specific time and location." The punishment could include up to 5 years in prison and a $125,000 fine.

Critics worry that the bill is so broadly construed that it could outlaw everything from tweets about student sit-ins to Facebook posts calling for the occupation of Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. In Oregon, it might become a tool to crack down on Occupy Portland, which is calling for the nonviolent shutdown of corporations such as Bank of America and ExxonMobil later this month.

Earlier today, activists posted contact information for the bill's 11 co-sponsors and urged allies to call to voice their opposition. None of the lawmakers could be reached for comment this afternoon. In many cases, their phones were busy.

The author of the bill, Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, defended it during a public hearing today. He wrote it to prevent people from saying: "'We are all going to arrive at Joe's Jewelry Store at 4:55 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon and we're going to rob him blind,'" he said. "This has been happening. At least 8 percent of the retailers in the United States have experienced that type of situation."

Still, speakers at the hearing overwhelmingly opposed the bill. "The law would inhibit somebody like Dr. Martin Luther King," said Eric Coker, an Oregon State PHD student. "It would have prevented something as simple as the Selma Bridge protest. All those people, if they had heard about it through electronic communication, they would all have been subject to a Class C felony."

Dan Meek, an attorney representing the Oregon Progressive Party, added: "I have to say, this is the kind of law that I would expect to see in Myanmar, Turkmenistan, North Korea or Zimbabwe, but not in Oregon."

House GOP Memo: "Abortion Is the Leading Cause of Death in the Black Community"

| Mon Feb. 6, 2012 1:31 PM EST
Anti-abortion billboards in Atlanta sparked a nationwide controversy last year as Georgia tried to pass a law outlawing abortion on the basis of race.

A House GOP memo obtained by Mother Jones argues for a controversial "prenatal discrimination bill" by referring to "black abortions" as distinct from abortions in general and claiming that "abortion is the leading cause of death in the black community." The memo (PDF) was circulated by Republicans on the House judiciary committee on Monday in advance of Tuesday's markup of Rep. Trent Franks' (R-Ariz.) Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.

Franks' bill, which is also known as H.R. 3514, didn't make it out of committee when it was introduced in the last Congress. But the fact that it's now receiving a markup—a key step on the way to a floor vote—and that 78 cosponsors have signed on suggests that it could proceed to a vote of the full House before November's elections. In addition to banning abortions based on the race or gender of the fetus, H.R. 3514 would give a woman's family members the ability to sue abortion providers if they believed an abortion was obtained based on race or sex. Critics warn that it would be next to impossible to prove that an abortion was obtained on the basis of race or gender and fear the provision could lead to nuisance suits against abortion providers by family members who are opposed to abortion on principle.

Bills outlawing sex-selection abortions—a procedure most Americans oppose—have passed on the state level. But a bill outlawing abortions based on race ran into trouble in Georgia in 2010. As my colleague Stephanie Mencimer reported: 

The campaign started with controversial billboards, which began popping up in the state after President Obama was elected. They featured a photo of a beautiful, sad black baby boy and the line: "Black children are an endangered species." Anti-abortion activists claimed to be out to save the black community from genocide at the hands of Planned Parenthood.

"The most pernicious part was, they're trying to hijack the civil rights legacy in the service of conservative causes, trying to appropriate the mantle of the civil rights movement in a really despicable way," says Loretta Ross, the national coordinator of SisterSong, a reproductive justice organization for women of color in Atlanta. She says the effort even featured white people singing "We Shall Overcome" at black women as part of a pro-life "freedom ride" bus tour that stopped at Atlanta's Martin Luther King Jr. Center. 

As with the Georgia bill, backers of Franks' bill, including Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the powerful chairman of the judiciary committee, have pointed to a supposed epidemic of abortions based on the race of the fetus—an argument that dominates the memo below. As Ross told Mencimer, the whole notion of black women choosing an abortion because of the race of the fetus doesn't make sense:

"It's kind of hard to find evidence that a black woman is going to have an abortion because she's surprised to find her baby is black. It just strains credulity to think that's a problem," [Ross] says with a hearty laugh. "I mean, she wakes up in the morning and says 'Oh my god! My baby's black?'"

UPDATE: My colleague Adam Serwer notes that the essay the Republican memo cites as evidence that "a thorough review of the American family planning movement reveals a history of targeting African-Americans for 'population control'" is actually a thorough debunking of arguments like those in the memo that argues the opposite point. Here's a choice excerpt:

Activists are exploiting and distorting the facts to serve their antiabortion agenda. They ignore the fundamental reason women have abortions and the underlying problem of racial and ethnic disparities across an array of health indicators. The truth is that behind virtually every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. This applies to all women—black, white, Hispanic, Asian and Native American alike. Not surprisingly, the variation in abortion rates across racial and ethnic groups relates directly to the variation in the unintended pregnancy rates across those same groups.

Also, it's worth noting, as Jill Lepore did in her excellent New Yorker essay on Planned Parenthood in November, that prominent black Americans such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were supportive of birth control and family planning, and the history of race and abortion in America is more complicated than the GOP memo would lead you to believe.

You can read the House GOP memo below. (The Document Cloud embed might take a second to load. If it doesn't appear, try refreshing the page.)

 

Behold the Most Racist Political Ad of the Year (So Far)

| Mon Feb. 6, 2012 1:04 PM EST

The year's most offensive Super Bowl ad—and the competition was stiff—wasn't seen in most of the country. It was from Michigan GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who's challenging Debbie Stabenow, an incumbent Democratic senator, in the fall. Or as the ad helpfully calls her, Debbie Spend-it-Now—"it" being "money," which Hoekstra fears will all end up in the hands of smiling, cunning Chinese women.

In the ad, an apparently well-educated young Chinese woman rides her bike through a rural rice paddie (Heaven knows why), and recounts Stabenow's support for raising the debt ceiling. Then she says, in perfectly broken English: "Debbie spend so much American money you borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie spend-it-now."

Stabenow's campaign is calling it "nothing more than a hypocritical attempt at a Hollywood-style makeover because the fact is, Pete spends a lot." But I think it's fair to say it's a lot more than just a Hollywood-style makeover; it's a play to racist Chinese stereotypes—simulatenously backwards, cold and calculating, anti-American, and capable of communicating only in broken English. Big Trouble in Little China was more progressive than this.

Thankfully, our new favorite Tumblr, "Racist Political Ads," is on the case.

The NYPD's Muslim Profiling Problem Gets Worse

| Mon Feb. 6, 2012 11:05 AM EST
Protesters in New York City rally against Rep. Peter King's 2011 Muslim radicalization hearings.

It's no secret that New York City is a huge target for terrorism. In the last few months, however, the Associated Press has shown that the New York City police have responded to that threat by treating its entire Muslim community like possible suspects. That approach harms the NYPD's ability to respond to threats in the future, since American Muslims are frequently the ones who alert law enforcement to poential threats. 

Here's what we now know about the NYPD's counterterrorism operations:

Muslim advocacy and civil libertarian groups have protested the NYPD's strategy, and on Friday they sent a letter to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman requesting a "prompt investigation into this matter." Fatima Khan, the director of the Muslim civil rights group Muslim Advocates, released a statement saying that the NYPD policies "have completely shattered any confidence and trust with affected communities, and can only be repaired by rectifying these policies and holding those who engage in abusive and discriminatory practices accountable."

The NYPD's issues with racial profiling seem reflective of an obvious structural issue: it has responsibilities and powers approaching those of a federal agency without federal-type oversight.

Writing in the New York Times, the Brennan Center's Faiza Patel and Elizabeth Goitein argue that what the city needs is an independent inspector general focused on the NYPD.

History shows that any attempt to oversee the police will be met with great resistance by the department and its political allies. But no agency is immune from mistakes. When the stakes are as high as they are in fighting terrorism, there must be a mechanism to identify excesses and wrongdoing. We need an independent inspector general for the Police Department. Such an official would have seen the film scandal for what it is: not the error of one sergeant, but an indication that procedures for authorizing training materials are lacking. Oversight makes government stronger, not weaker.

Patel and Goitein note that Bloomberg himself has bragged that the NYPD is "the seventh biggest army in the world." A mechanism for accountability that reflects that power is probably in order.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Your Daily Newt: Crack Negotiating Skills

| Mon Feb. 6, 2012 10:00 AM EST
Then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich photobombs Bill Clinton's 1997 swearing-in ceremony.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

One of Newt Gingrich's most compelling arguments on the campaign trail is that as president, he'll be able to win converts to his policies through sheer intellectual force and powers of persuasion. Put him in a one-on-one debate with Barack Obama and he'll wipe the floor with the president. Let him deal with Congress and he'll find a way to break through. Newt's been in the trenches with Bill Clinton, the thinking goes, and has the legislative victories to show for it. But as Robert Draper reported for GQ in 2005, Gingrich's negotiating skills often left his conservative colleagues shaking their heads:

The Clintons are never far from Newt's mind. They're like the Kennedys were to Nixon: glamorous, charismatic, brazen power-grabbing elitist amoral lying dream killers. Wrong on health care, wrong on the budget, wrong on the military...and so goddamned clever! Newt's staff and the class of '94 had seen it time and again: Every time Speaker Gingrich galloped into the Oval Office with his musket loaded for Slick Willie, he shuffled out holding his own gonads. "It got to the point where the Republican freshmen were afraid to send him in there alone," remembers Newt's archivist and friend, Mel Steely. "By the time Newt would get back to his office, Clinton's press secretary had already announced the opposite of what they'd agreed on. I'd say, 'Newt, how did you get suckered in?' And he'd say, 'Clinton would come up from behind his desk, put his arm around me, and say, "Newt, you're absolutely right." Just charm the pants right off of you.'"

Obama's Golden Nuclear Option

| Mon Feb. 6, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Sometime this month, after receiving a year's worth of research and analysis from the Pentagon and his national security advisers, President Obama will get to decide for the first time in his term what the United States' nuclear war strategy should look like. Every four years, the strategy comes up for review and revision; Obama could determine its scope, where it's aimed, and whether the US could use nukes for a first strike.

In light of the deficit cold war gripping Washington and the post-Iraq move toward a more conventional military strategy, Obama has an unprecedented opportunity to reduce the world's danger of nuclear attack, security expert Joseph Cirincione wrote in Foreign Affairs on Thursday. (Full disclosure: Cirincione is president of the anti-proliferation Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation which has provided funding to Mother Jones.)

Since early in his presidency, Obama has insisted that the US should work to reduce and eventually eliminate its stockpile of nukes. He re-emphasized that point last month when announcing his new overall military strategy at the Pentagon. "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force," he said, "which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

Current conditions certainly seem ripe for nuclear reductions. Politicians from both parties have been looking for cuts in the federal budget. Some of America's nuclear-armed missiles, bombers, and subs are reaching the end of their operational lives and could either be replaced at great expense, or allowed to "sunset." But most important, according to Cirincione, the president now has his once-in-a-lifetime (or, at least, once-in-an-elected-term) shot to change the nation's nuclear policy guidance, with potentially huge benefit to US fiscal strength and military posture alike.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 6, 2012

Mon Feb. 6, 2012 6:57 AM EST

Army Pfc. Shari Crump (center) listens to a convoy brief by her platoon leader prior to a resupply mission at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., on January 22, 2012. Crump is a truck driver assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division's, 1st Brigade Combat Team. DoD photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod, US Army.

Time for Some Troll Whacking

| Sat Feb. 4, 2012 5:34 PM EST

This weekend we're trying something new in our commenting system. This only affects you if you have been posting as a "guest;" if you normally sign in with Disqus (which powers our commenting system) or your Mother Jones ID, nothing changes. If you were using the "guest" feature, you can now sign in via Disqus, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Twitter, or OpenID. You can also create a commenter identity in the Mother Jones system here. As before, your information will not be disclosed; see Disqus' privacy policy here and Mother Jones' here.

We hope that this will discourage drive-by spammers and trolls, while still providing privacy for all our users.

Our moderators will continue to keep an eye out for abusive comments, but given the volume of discussion here, we'd love your help. Flag abusive comments (see our community rules here), which helps us identify and ban trolls.

We'd love to hear your feedback on this change, or anything else about our commenting system; email us at support at motherjones dot com.