2011 - %3, December

Newt Gingrich: The Ali G Interview

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 11:07 AM EST

Now that Newt Gingrich is offically a serious Republican presidential candidate, everything he's done in his 68 years is up for scrutiny. His trip to the Harrisburg, Pa. city hall as a young boy to ask the mayor to open up a zoo reflects pretty well on him; his support for a bill calling for global population control in the name of global warming might not go over so well with the conservative base. It's not entirely clear how his interview with Sacha Baron Cohen character Ali G will play, but here you go:

The look of total spite on Gingrich's face as he explains how to properly pronounce his first name is fantastic.

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"They're Holding Us Hostage!"

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 8:51 AM EST

UPDATE: As the New York Observer, Capital New York, and Gothamist have pointed out, the NYPD's refusal to allow me into the "frozen zone" where OWS protesters were held last night comes just days after Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly sent a memo to officers reminding them not to interfere with meda access during news coverage.

Outside a Manhattan fundraiser attended by President Barack Obama last night, the New York City Police Department deployed a new and legally questionable tactic against Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and the press. Starting at around 9:00 p.m., police barricaded a group of about 50 protesters into a small area on 7th Avenue and 53rd Street. These kinds of designated "free speech zones" have become routine at protests of high-level political events. But here's the twist: Protesters in the NYPD's free speech zone were trapped there. Not only could nobody enter after a certain point, but for about an hour and a half, nobody could leave.

When I arrived outside the Obama event, a $1000-a-head fundraiser at the Sheraton New York, I found that the police had cordoned off the sidewalk a block in all directions and were not admitting the press. Deeper inside this "frozen zone," as the police called it, were the kettled protesters, who occupied a sort of Faberge egg of dissent that was completely inaccessible to anyone not already there. From my vantage point I couldn't even read their signs.

On the sidewalk I ran into Andrew Katz, a Columbia journalism grad student who has gained a following covering OWS on Twitter. We noticed that cars driving down 7th Avenue were getting much closer to the kettled area than pedestrians and hatched a plan to ride a cab into the center of things. Here's the video I shot of hopping out and getting pushed away as I tried to interview trapped protesters:

To be sure, the crackdown on the protest can't help Democrats who want OWS to give them a boost at the ballot box. "Everybody just got really fucked constitutionally," said a woman in a black puffer, summing up the dominant sentiment in the crowd. A spokesman for the NYPD, who would only give his name as Officer Navarro, told me that he was unaware of the events at the Obama protest and could not comment on them.

Many who showed up outside the fundraiser said they'd just wanted to talk about the kind change that Obama had campaigned on. "It's funny that all of us supported Obama and we are now literally being held as prisoners 100 yards from where he'd giving a talk," said Chelsea, a young protester in from Essex County, New Jersey. She'd wanted to tell the president: "If you don't listen to corporate interests, you don't have to take millions of dollars from them. We would actually want to elect you."

Wall Street Tactics for the Pentagon?

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Last week I reported on the activities of the little-known Defense Business Board, an advisory panel of corporate executives that aspires to overhaul Pentagon operations using Wall Street-style management and cost-cutting tactics—including a controversial proposal to privatize military retirements. Over at Gunpowder and Lead, DOD employee and operations analyst extraordinaire James Skylar Gerrond sets his sights on my story:

[I]n this case I think Adam's desire to tell a good partisan story overwhelmed his responsibility to be intellectually honest. This article completely overstates the influence of the DBB, wrongly frames them as lacking empathy for military members and misrepresents their recommendations on a number of issues…The reason you've never heard of the DBB isn't that they are overly secretive, its just that they aren't really that important.

Sky—who's eloquently taken issue with the DBB's plan on GI pensions before—makes some worthwhile points, in particular taking me to task for writing that the board's members "know little about military affairs." Three of the 12 main board members do have military backgrounds, as Sky points out, and I'll gladly take the heat for downplaying that. All the same, the résumés of the DBB members are much more stacked with a different kind of service: high-level roles at Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, the Bank of Virginia, and other investment banks and consulting firms.

The Little Office Behind Obama's Big Enviro Flops

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 7:00 AM EST
President Obama and Cass Sunstein, OIRA administrator, chat near the West Wing.

For a while now, Obama's environmental record has been mixed—at times great, at others shoddy. But a new report (PDF), released Monday from the Center on Progressive Reform (CPR), suggests that when it comes to dismantling environmental reforms, Obama's administration is actually on par with that of former President George W. Bush. What's worse, the report shows, is that their combined decade of damage has a common denominator: an elusive federal entity called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) that has, under the auspices of both administrations, waged war on environmental, health, and safety protections.  

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 1, 2011

Thu Dec. 1, 2011 6:57 AM EST

US Army Spc. Ricardo Gonzalez, 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, spends his Thanksgiving pulling security at an entry control point in Afghanistan November 24, 2011. US Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Duval.