Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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The Obama Administration Wants You to Stop Worrying and Love the Bailouts

| Mon Apr. 16, 2012 6:30 AM EDT
President Barack Obama chats with Timothy Geithner, the secretary of the Treasury.

The Obama administration wants Americans to realize what a good job it and the Bush administration did saving the economy from a second Great Depression. But they'd prefer not to make this case directly. They want journalists to do it for them.

On Friday, the Treasury Department convened one of its semi-regular, invitation-only background press briefings for journalists. Senior Treasury officials spoke to us, answered our questions, and showed us a "deck," which is annoying industry jargon for a PowerPoint presentation. "I just know this is going to be a fucking waste of time—another dog-and-pony show," another journalist told me on our way into the meeting. The central message of the dog-and-pony show was that the US response to the 2008 financial collapse was pretty effective, especially when compared to how other countries reacted to different crises. The PowerPoint presentation used terms like "bank investment programs," but what the Treasury gang was talking about was the highly unpopular financial bailouts (as opposed to the auto bailouts, which the Obama team views as a political winner).

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Bomb Explodes at Wisconsin Planned Parenthood (Updates)

| Mon Apr. 2, 2012 10:41 AM EDT

A small homemade bomb exploded outside of a Planned Parenthood office in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, on Sunday evening, local media reported. The explosive device, which was placed on a window sill, went off and started a small fire that triggered alarms and brought the local fire department to the scene. There were no reported injuries, and the building was closed at the time. Local police are investigating.

The office that was attacked is now "temporarily closed," according to the welcome recording on its voicemail system. I've put in a request for comment to Stephanie Wilson, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Wisconsin. I'll update this post if she responds. I've also asked the local police department for more details and will update if I hear back.

UPDATE, 12:30 p.m. EST: Talking Points Memo reports that the FBI has joined the investigation.

UPDATE 2, 1:30 p.m. EST: Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has issued a short statement via Twitter:

Thank you to everyone for your ongoing support and concern. Last night our Appleton center was vandalized w/ a homemade explosive device. No staff or patients were injured. The Appleton health center will reopen tomorrow. Our primary concern today—as always—is our patients, staff and volunteers.

Teri Huyck, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, issued a longer statement via the group's website.

UPDATE 3, 4:00 p.m. EST: Talking Points Memo reports that the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which is charged with investigating violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, is also probing the bombing incident.

The NRA Wants the Law Protecting Trayvon Martin's Killer in All 50 States

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 6:27 PM EDT

The National Rifle Association continues to press more states to adopt Florida-style "stand your ground" laws like the one that's made it difficult to prosecute George Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in late February. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense despite the fact that Martin was unarmed. Since "stand your ground" laws allow people who feel threatened to use deadly force—even if they have an opportunity, as Zimmerman did, to safely avoid a confrontation—Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged. (If you haven't heard about the Martin case, get the full rundown in our explainer.)

The proliferation of these laws is part of a deliberate lobbying campaign by the NRA. In 2005, at the NRA's urging, Florida became the first state to pass a "stand your ground" law. Before that, most states required you to retreat from a confrontation unless you were inside your own home. Now 25 states have these "stand your ground" laws, which critics call "shoot first" laws (Gawker's pseudonymous blogger "Mobuto Sese Seko" calls the laws "a great, legally roving murder bubble") because they authorize citizens to use deadly force even if the person who makes them feel threatened is, like Martin, unarmed. Here's a map of the current situation:

Prosecutors hate "stand your ground" laws because they make it much harder to successfully prosecute people who claim self-defense. In Florida, a defendant doesn't have to actually prove he acted in self-defense—the prosecution has to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he didn't do so, a very high bar to clear. The upshot? In 2010, the Tampa Bay Times reported that "justifiable homicides"—i.e., killings that were deemed legitimate—have skyrocketed in Florida over several years since the "stand your ground" law went into effect:

That's how you end up with stories with headlines like "How to Get Away With Murder." But the NRA continues to forge ahead, pushing to expand the legislation to even more states.

On March 1, just days after Martin was killed, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action posted a blog post urging Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) to sign a bill bringing a Florida-style law to his state. Dayton vetoed the bill, noting that law enforcement officials had complained it would make it harder for them to do their jobs. Over at Media Matters, Matt Gertz notes several other examples of the NRA pushing these laws in recent weeks:

  • On March 16, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) criticized the Judiciary Committee chairman of Iowa's state Senate for failing to hold hearings on "NRA-initiated HF 2215, the Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine Enhancement." According to NRA-ILA, the bill would "remove a person's 'duty to retreat' from an attacker, allowing law-abiding citizens to stand their ground and protect themselves or their family anywhere they are lawfully present." The group urged supporters to contact state senators and tell them to support the bill. NRA-ILA previously told supporters to contact Democratic members of the Iowa House after they "left the Capitol building in an attempt to block consideration of these pro-gun bills" on February 29.
  • On March 14, NRA-ILA urged Alaskan supporters to contact their state senators and tell them to support House Bill 80, which it termed "important self-defense legislation that would provide that a law-abiding person, who is justified in using deadly force in self-defense, has 'no duty-to-retreat' from an attack if the person is in any place that that person has a legal right to be." NRA-ILA also promoted the bill on March 5March 8, and February 29

The Massachusetts legislature's joint committee on the judiciary held a hearing on yet another similar law in February.

A Stupid, Costly Regulation Obama Should Kill

| Tue Mar. 20, 2012 11:15 AM EDT

Barack Obama is on the hunt for stupid, unnecessary regulations that the government should get rid of, Politico's Playbook reported Tuesday morning. I have a suggestion: kill the rule that is forcing everyone, including the government (and, by extension, taxpayers), to pay way more for life-saving asthma inhalers than we did ten years ago.

In 2009, at the urging of the drug lobby, the EPA started banning asthma inhalers that run on ozone-depleting CFC aerosols. As a result, inhaler prices jumped from as little as $5 to as much as $60. The drug companies were thrilled—they got a new round of patent protection (and got to charge higher prices) for non-CFC inhalers that dispense exactly the same medicine as their CFC-based predecessors. But everyone else got screwed. By 2017, the switch to the new inhalers will cost consumers, taxpayers, and the government some $8 billion, according to the EPA's own estimates, just to avoid a tiny amount of CFC emissions.

Asthma is a big deal—it's responsible for one quarter of all emergency room visits in the United States"It's just absurd to think that this is anything that could have a measurable impact," Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy research, told me for an article on this subject last year. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a law that raised costs so much for such a nonexistent benefit to the environment."

The EPA will probably argue that it's not as simple as scrapping the rule—the US has treaty obligations that are forcing us to do this. That's not good enough. The Obama administration should renegotiate the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty on the use of ozone-depleting CFCs, to include a common-sense exception for CFC-based medical inhalers. Even that can't possibly cost more than the $8 billion-plus that is being sucked out of taxpayers' pockets and into the coffers of the pharmaceutical industry for an almost negligible environmental benefit.

*Update, 7:45 p.m. EST: A reader writes to say that I should probably note, as I did in tweets about this story, that I have asthma, and so this affects me personally. Of course, it affects you, too. Medicaid and Medicare, which you pay for in your taxes, pay more for inhalers than they did prior to this rule.

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