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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Report: Obama Team to Break Silence on Killings of American Terror Suspects

| Tue Jan. 24, 2012 10:55 AM PST

The Obama administration will soon explain why it believes the president has the authority to kill American-born terror suspects abroad without charge or trial, Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman reported Monday. US drones have already killed American-born Al Qaeda propagandists Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, and, in a separate strike, Awlaki's 16-year-old, American-born son Abdulrahman. In October, the New York Times' Charlie Savage reported on the contents of a secret document prepared by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that laid out the adminstration's legal rationale for killing the elder Awlaki. But the Obama administration has yet to publicly explain its controversial argument, and Savage and the Times have sued the government after trying and failing to obtain the OLC memo through the Freedom of Information Act. Now, Klaidman says, the White House seems poised to explain at least some of its reasoning:

In the coming weeks, according to four participants in the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is planning to make a major address on the administration’s national-security record. Embedded in the speech will be a carefully worded but firm defense of its right to target U.S. citizens. Holder’s remarks will draw heavily on a secret Justice Department legal opinion that provided the justification for the Awlaki killing.

But when you read further down in the Klaidman piece, it's clear that the government isn't preparing to say much:

An early draft of Holder’s speech identified Awlaki by name, but in a concession to concerns from the intelligence community, all references to the al Qaeda leader were removed. As currently written, the speech makes no overt mention of the Awlaki operation, and reveals none of the intelligence the administration relied on in carrying out his killing.

It's hard to see how this will make anyone on either side of the Awlaki debate happy. Secrecy hawks may be upset by even this much disclosure, and civil libertarians will wonder why the administration is speaking in vague generalities. Savage and the Times will almost certainly continue their lawsuit seeking the OLC memo about the killing, which is what's really at issue here. The Obama administration was willing to release the OLC memos related to George W. Bush's most controversial actions—namely, the brutal interrogations of non-citizens. It will continue to be difficult for the Obama team to argue that memos about their most controversial actions, the killing of citizens without charge or trial, should be exempt from the same type of disclosure.

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Some Context on the Gold Standard

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 8:08 PM PST

During Monday night's GOP presidential primary debate on NBC, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a prominent advocate of pegging the value of the US dollar to the price of gold, praised Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, for promising to appoint a federal gold commission to "look at the whole concept of how do we get back to hard money." Since there was little actual discussion of the gold standard as policy (President Richard Nixon took the US off gold in August 1971), it's worth examining what top economists think about it. In short, they don't think it's a great idea. The University of Chicago's business school recently asked several dozen top economists whether they agreed with the following statement:

If the US replaced its discretionary monetary policy regime with a gold standard, defining a "dollar" as a specific number of ounces of gold, the price-stability and employment outcomes would be better for the average American.

Every single one of the economists surveyed disagreed with the statement; i.e., they unanimously embraced the anti-gold standard view, differing only on the degree to which they disagreed with it. 

Gold standard advocates will point out that many top economists missed things like the housing bubble and the financial crisis, and that establishment support for a view doesn't necessarily mean it's correct. That's true, but context is important, too.

Romney Says "I Didn't Inherit Money From My Parents." Really?

| Thu Jan. 19, 2012 7:30 PM PST

At Thursday night's Republican primary debate on CNN, Mitt Romney told the audience he "didn't inherit money from my parents." Romney's dad, George Romney, was the CEO of the American Motors Company and governor of Michigan during the 1960s, so it's hard to believe he didn't have money to bequeath his son Mitt. As it happens, the younger Romney explained what happened to his inheritance in more detail in an interview with Reuters in December [emphasis added]:

"What I got from my parents when they passed away I gave away to charity and to my kids. And so what I’ve earned has been earned through my education, my values, living in the greatest country in the world, through some luck and through hard work," he said.

Passing your inheritance on to your children is not the same as not inheriting money at all. And it actually makes me a bit curious: a common estate-tax reduction strategy known as a dynasty trust relies on skipping generations. Did Romney pass on his inheritance to his kids for tax reasons? It's hard to know without seeing his tax returns—and that's another reason why he should release them.

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