Mojo - December 2011

Your Daily Newt: Speaker of the Yurt

| Fri Dec. 9, 2011 12:33 PM EST

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.

By April 1997, House Speaker Newt Gingrich's approval rating had dipped to 14 percent in the national polls. The balance of power in his party was beginning to shift to the now-GOP controlled Senate, and there was an ethics investigation targeting him for several allegations of wrongdoing. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) went on the record describing his speaker as "road kill." But Gingrich was riding high, for he had just conquered Central Asia.

In advance of Mongolia's national elections in 1996, Gingrich and Republican allies dispatched a band of consultants to groom a slate of free-market-oriented candidates. They crafted a "Contract With the Mongolian Voter," based on the "Contract With America" Gingrich and his Republican allies composed for the 1994 election that brought him to power. The Gingrich-backed Mongolian candidates pledged to privatize 60 percent of state property, cut social services, slash taxes, and "support herders' rights to use non-cash payment methods." Baby steppes. As the Washington Post reported, "Even the new Mongolian election law was lifted verbatim from the election law manual of Texas."

The election was a huge success for Gingrich. His Mongolian allies went from five votes in the legislature to 50—out of a total 76. Maureen Dowd dubbed him "Speaker of the Yurt."

Holding up a crown-shaped hat that had been giften to him by an adoring Mongolian, Gingrich appeared on stage at the annual GOPAC conference in Washington, DC to claim victory. From that speech:

"On a stool in his portable felt and canvas yurt, Yadamsuren, a seventy-year-old nomadic sheepherder, offered a visitor chunks of sheep fat and shots of fermented mare's milk to ward off the unspeakable cold....Many miles from the nearest neighbor, he spoke glowingly of the work of House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party."

I am not making this up. I am reading from the Washington Post, this is a direct quote from Mr. Yadamsuren: "I read the contract with the voter very closely."

...

Isn't it exciting to know that not only in America but in Mongolia, ideas are working?

Gingrich's overseas revolution was short-lived; the new Mongolian governing coalition collapsed four years later.

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Colorado Secretary of State: Ease Up On Voting Security

| Fri Dec. 9, 2011 11:30 AM EST

It appears that Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler didn't get the memo about New York's recent voting machine troubles. The Denver Post reports:

The Colorado Secretary of State's office is considering changes that would relax security around electronic voting machines, making the already-vulnerable equipment more susceptible to hacking, opponents of the equipment and the draft rules said today... Richard Coolidge, public information officer for Secretary of State Scott Gessler, said the aim is to provide more guidance and clarity to county clerks, thereby creating more uniformity in how rules are applied.

"We're trying to balance common sense, practical application with security on the other end," Coolidge said. "We can do that without compromising any security."

Gessler wants to end "continuous" video surveillance of voting stations, and reduce the number of tamper-proof seals that must be placed on cases holding voting machine components. He also wants to eliminate a requirement that election officials report suspicions of election machine tampering to the secretary of state. Instead, he wants to delegate that authority to county officials, at their behest.

Considering Colorado's relatively recent voting machine snafus, you'd think Gessler would be inclined to preserve these protective measures, not break them down: In 2006, Colorado voters sued then-Secretary of State Mike Coffman to get him to decertify a number of faulty electronic voting terminals and ballot scanners, the Post reports. Those machines were recertified later, accompanied by a slate of new rules for using each type of machine and ensuring their security.

Perhaps the thinking here is to let local officials have more control over voting and save the state some money in the process. But given the potential problems that could ensue, it seems like the state could be inviting an unnecessary risk.

CIA Black Site in Romania: Hidden in Plain Sight

| Fri Dec. 9, 2011 10:08 AM EST

On Thursday, the Associated Press published their exhaustive investigation into "Bright Light," a one-time CIA black site that was used in key anti-terrorism operations. From 2003 until its closing in 2006, Bright Light was one of the agency's most vital detention and interrogation facilities in the Bush administration's war on terror. Some of the most notorious terror suspects of the past decade—including alleged 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—passed through the secret prison located near the heart of Bucharest, Romania's capital. The AP, in conjunction with the German public television program ARD Panorama, uncovered details of the site's interrogation program, building layout, and other critical information. Here's the photo of the facility's exterior that has been making the rounds online:

After gazing at that, you're probably thinking that this top-secret CIA prison looks an awful lot like a rundown DMV. The report describes the black site as "hiding in plain sight, on a leafy residential street along a busy set of train tracks in Romania's capital":

Unlike the CIA's facility in Lithuania's countryside or the one hidden in a Polish military installation, the CIA's prison in Romania was not in a remote location. The building is used as [the Romanian government's] National Registry Office for Classified Information, which is also known as ORNISS. Classified information from NATO and the European Union is stored there. Former intelligence officials both described the location of the prison and identified pictures of the building.

Watch: Protesters Target John Boehner at Chamber Holiday Party

| Fri Dec. 9, 2011 7:00 AM EST
House Speaker John Boehner

On Thursday night, protesters in Washington, DC, staked out a holiday shindig at the US Chamber of Commerce building where business and political leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner, were said to be in attendance. The protest was organized by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Chamber Watch, and various occupy groups, and some of the participants said they were out of work or lacked enough work to get by comfortably. Huddling under a red "99%" carpet, they invited the guests to tread on them.

Standing on the street near the entrance to the gauntlet (watch below) was Bruce Josten, a Chamber VP who is basically the business group's chief lobbyist. He's the one wearing a three-piece pinstripe suit and tassle loafers, greeting people and encouraging them to brave the crowd. "Hey Greg, how are ya?" I heard him say to one guest, shaking the man's hand. "This is great. Go on in."

"This is Bruce Josten's let-them-eat-cake moment," commented Christie Setzer of Chamber Watch. I urged her to go talk to Josten, whom she had never met, but she didn't want to.

Among the people under the carpet was 55-year-old Michelle McDonnell, an Arizona resident whom SEIU paid to fly out and join the week's protests. McDonnell told me she'd badly injured her ankle two years ago, requiring surgery. She lost her job as licensed therapist because she couldn't be on her feet, and could not find work in any other field. For a while, she was on food stamps and Access, an Arizona program, but the benefits ran out, and she nearly lost her home to foreclosure by Bank of America. What finally saved her was getting married to a man with an income.

"We are here because of Boehner," she said. "We want him to stop listening to just the 1 percent and do something that works for all people. We have a lot of people who need jobs, and they are talking about creating jobs, but they are taking jobs away." Specifically, she wants Boehner to extend unemployment, further reform the healthcare system. "We're here because we are sick and tired. They are up there eating and having a wonderful party. And we are all here unemployed and don't know where our next meal is going to come from."

Also watch: "OWS Occupies Movies-Set Replica of Itself" and Andy Kroll's videos of protesters occupying a posh Newt Gingrich fundraiser, and turning the tables on Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 9, 2011

Fri Dec. 9, 2011 6:57 AM EST

Spc. Michael L. Noel, a Personal Security Detail Soldier assigned to the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, scans his sector from inside his gunner's turret during training at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., November 30, 2011. Photo by the US Army.

VIDEO: OWS Occupies Movie-Set Replica of Itself, for Real

| Fri Dec. 9, 2011 1:15 AM EST

It's straight out of a Don DeLillo novel: A few hours after television producers set up a replica of Occupy Wall Street for the filming of a new episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the real Occupy Wall Street announced plans to occupy the fake one. At 11:30 p.m. the call to occupy the set went out on Twitter with the hash tag #Mockupy. Located at nearby Foley Square, the fake camp includes a replica of the OWS kitchen and library as well as numerous tarps, tents, and signs. "They've delivered us this perfectly wrapped Christmas present with a bow on top: They rebuilt our camp," OWS organizer Jake DeGroot told me shortly before the announcement went out. "How could we not go and take it?"

Here's video of the fake Zuccotti Park being occupied by the real occupiers: 

As of about 1:00 a.m., the police had begun to push protesters out of the park and dismantle the set. "NYPD does not respect Law and Order," the crowd chanted cheekily. At one point, an occupier asked an officer, "Are these real barricades, or a set piece?"

Within about an hour police had cleared out the protesters, which was less time than it took clear the real Zuccotti, but probably more than they'd need on a TV show. "You guys just cleared a fake Zuccotti Park," the tweeter @NewYorkist told a police officer, who countered that they'd done no such thing: "We didn't clear a fake Zuccotti," he insisted. "They're taking the set down."

A few minutes later, the occupiers regrouped on a nearby set of steps for an impromptu general assembly. "This is beautiful, and this points out to us a more clever way to fight the struggle," someone said, echoed by the people's mic. 

"Whose park?" another man yelled.

Everyone knew their lines. "Our park!"

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VIDEO: Fox's Bill O'Reilly Gets a Taste of His Own Ambush Medicine

| Thu Dec. 8, 2011 2:03 PM EST

The ambush interview is a common feature on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show. An O'Reilly underling will spring on an unsuspecting subject—blogger Amanda Terkel, a Florida county judge with whom O'Reilly disagreed, Columbia Journalism Review editor Mike Hoyt, among many others—press a camera in his or her face, and pepper them with leading questions.

On Wednesday night, O'Reilly got a taste of his own medicine. A protester spotted O'Reilly near DC's Willard InterContinental hotel, the site of a fundraiser for GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, turned on the camera, and repeatedly asked O'Reilly if he'd attended the Gingrich event. O'Reilly responded by shoving his umbrella in the face of the ambusher and later complaining to a nearby cop, the clip shows. The video was sent to Mother Jones by a staffer with the Service Employees International Union.

Watch:

O'Reilly's confrontation wasn't the only scuffle between protesters flying under the "we are the 99 percent" banner and conservative figures. Earlier in the evening, as Mother Jones got on camera, a dozen or so boisterous protesters crashed the Gingrich fundraiser in downtown DC. After nearly ten minutes of chanting and testimonials, the protesters were ejected from the candlelit event by hotel security and other angry attendees.

Watch:

Protesters also visited the home of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday, and said they were planning several other actions throughout the day. The actions are in conjunction with "Take Back the Capitol," a 99-percent-themed series of protests around Washington, DC.

Your Daily Newt: The Speaker as Anti-Colonial Samurai

| Thu Dec. 8, 2011 12:53 PM EST

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.

If you want to understand Newt Gingrich, start with what's on his book shelf. That's his advice, anyway. He assigned a reading list to his Republican caucus in 1995, and he peppers his speeches with references to writers like French existentialist Albert Camus. And as Connie Bruck explained in her epic 1995 New Yorker profile, Gingrich was particularly influenced by a novel about a 17th-century Japanese samurai named Toranaga:

[Former campaign manager Carlyle] Gregory also said that in 1978 Gingrich was reading the novel Shogun by James Clavell, and that a major character—Toranaga, a seventeenth-century samurai warlord—had a powerful influence on him. [Gingrich's friend] Daryl Conner, too, told me that Toranaga was a critical model for Gingrich. The book is a narrative of Toranaga's quest for the absolute power of shogun. Throughout the book, Toranaga, who confides in no one, violently repudiates the suggestion of his most loyal followers that he should seek to become shogun, even calling it "treason." Yet, through his study of individuals' psychology, his patience in listening, his system of punishment and reward, his establishment of an elaborate information network of spies, and his talent in projecting a wholly false self-image (he is an accomplished Noh actor), Toranaga is able to use, manipulate, and deceive all who come in contact with him; thus, in the end, he achieves his goal. 

It gets better:

He will become shogun, and, moreover (this the reader learns at the very end), it has also long been Toranaga's long-held secret plan to rid Japan of white people.

What if Gingrich is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Japanese, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together his behavior?

Wall Street Goes After Elizabeth Warren For Being Too Nice to Wall Street

| Thu Dec. 8, 2011 12:50 PM EST

Republicans are sweating next year's Massachusetts Senate race, and for good reason. The latest poll, out on Wednesday from UMass–Lowell and the Boston Herald, gave Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren a seven point lead over incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown—a 10 point swing from the group's previous survey. Which sort of explains this new ad hitting the airwaves in Massachusetts, from Karl Rove's dark-money outfit, Crossroads GPS:

Notice something odd? Just a few weeks ago Rove's group released an ad chastising Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who started up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for inciting Occupy Wall Street. Now, his group has done a complete 180. Warren's no longer a radical anti-capitalist crusader; she's Wall Street's best friend (albeit a friend one banker called "the anti-Christ").

The kicker: As Michael Isikoff reported, "A substantial portion of Crossroads GPS' money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls." So Wall Street is attacking Warren for associating with Wall Street. Got it?

Corn on Hardball: Obama and "Appeasement"

Thu Dec. 8, 2011 12:08 PM EST

Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn and Florida Republican strategist Sally Bradshaw joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to debate Mitt Romney's claims that President Obama supports "appeasing" foreign enemies, particularly the Iranian regime. Bradshaw, a former senior advisor to Romney during his 2008 presidential run, said that Romney was right on the money, and that the Obama administration was guilty of "abandoning" Israel. Corn accused the Republican candidate of spouting "empty, debasing rhetoric" and noted that Obama's foreign policy does not come anywhere close to appeasement (i.e., the death of Moammar Qaddafi and the increase of military presence in the Pacific).

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.