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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RBC Challenge: Michigan Has Been "Punished Enough"

| Sat May 31, 2008 1:24 PM EDT

Mark Brewer, the chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, told the Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) Saturday that Michigan has been "punished enough" for violating party rules and moving its primary forward. Brewer, who is also a member of the RBC, said that the Michigan Democratic party believes that its proposed 69-59 delegate split accurately reflects Democratic voter preferences at the time of the primary. His challenge is asking the committee to allocate the delegates in accordance with its proposal.

The Michigan situation is trickier for the RBC to resolve than the Florida situation is. Neither Barack Obama nor John Edwards, who recently endorsed Obama, was on the ballot in Michigan. Instead, many Obama and Edwards supporters voted for "uncommitted." The Clinton supporters on the RBC argue that the uncommitted delegates should go to the convention as "uncommitted", meaning they would function essentially as superdelegates. The Michigan Democratic Party believe the vast majority of the uncommitted delegates should be assigned as pledged Obama delegates.

Both positions have serious flaws. The Michigan party's delegate allocation is based not just on the votes cast, but also on exit polls and the party's guesses about the names on 30,000 sealed write-in ballots. It's a sort of mishmash of the available information, and it's definitely not a normal election result. The problem with the Clinton camp's position is that the votes cast also don't represent a normal election result. It was an election that was essentially Hillary Clinton vs. Uncommitted. None of the ballots in the other primary states looked anything like that.

The Obama campaign supports a third option. In their plan, the delegates for the states would be divided equally between the two candidates, 64-64. They argue that the primary was flawed (Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who supports the Michigan Democratic Party solution, admitted as much in his testimony today). The Obama proposal says that while Michigan should still get a voice at the convention, neither candidate should get an advantage from the flawed contest.

We'll find out what the committee thinks later today.

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Clinton Surrogate Says FL-MI Struggle = Civil Rights Movement

| Sat May 31, 2008 12:15 PM EDT

Arthenia Joyner, a Florida state legislator who is making Hillary Clinton's case to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, opened by comparing the struggle to get the Florida delegates counted to the civil rights movement and the fight against apartheid. Joyner should know; she was arrested in civil rights sit-ins and protested outside the South African embassy during the 1980s. Like Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who testified before her, Joyner cited examples of specific primary voters who are being "disenfranchised" by the DNC's decision to strip the state of its delegates. Echoing a common theme of the morning, Joyner pointed out that it was the Republican-controlled legislature, not Florida Democrats, who moved up the state's primary date and triggered the DNC's sanctions.

"You have an opportunity right here and right now to write the people of Florida back into this election's story," Joyner said, citing the U.S. constitution and natural rights in her argument for "righting that wrong".

When asked whether she supported full votes for delegates or the alternative proposal for half votes, Joyner smiled and said: "I've been taught that when you want something, you ask for what you want.... I want it all." Laughs and applause filled the room, especially when Joyner unintentionally echoed Mick Jagger: "in life, you can't always get what you want."

Dean Calls for Unity, Hints at Pro-Obama Solution to Florida-Michigan Mess

| Sat May 31, 2008 10:56 AM EDT

The Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) is meeting today in Washington, D.C., to decide whether the delegates from Michigan and Florida's rule-breaking primaries will count in the race for the nomination. Both states lost all of their delegates as a punishment for moving up their primaries without DNC approval. Hillary Clinton's campaign has argued that the delegates from both states should be restored in full, a move that would net her some 40-odd delegates. Barack Obama's campaign has said it is willing to compromise, but will not accede to all of the Clinton campaign's demands.

A DNC staff analysis released earlier this week seems to indicate that the RBC cannot restore more than half of Florida and Michigan's delegates—it's supposedly an "automatic" penalty. The 30-member RBC includes 13 Clinton supporters, 8 Obama supporters, and 9 people who have not committed to either candidate. So Clinton only needs the votes of 3 of the 9 uncommitted members to force a decision in her favor.

Waxman to EPA Official: When You Appear Before Me, You Shall Bring Documents

| Fri May 16, 2008 2:14 PM EDT

On Friday Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the chair of the House oversight committee, sent a letter to Stephen L. Johnson, the EPA administrator. It wasn't a friendly note. Waxman is frustrated that the EPA has failed to comply with his May 5 subpoena for "more than 30 documents relating to communications with offices in the White House." (The committee is investigating political interference with the work of EPA scientists.) Waxman explains that Johnson has "two basic options for each of the documents: provide the document to the Committee or assert executive privilege with respect to the document."

So far, the White House hasn't asserted executive privilege with regards to the documents Waxman wants. That means that if he doesn't bring the requested documents to a May 20 hearing where he is expected to appear, Johnson will be in defiance of the subpoena. The Chairman didn't mince words, either. The first sentence of the letter reads: "I am writing to advise you that when you appear before the Committee on May 20, 2008, you should appear with documents."

Waxman's not known for bluffing, so it should be quite a scene if Mr. Johnson shows up next Tuesday without his homework. I'll keep you posted.

NY Times Op-Ed Plugs MoJo Article on Corporate Espionage

| Wed May 7, 2008 11:42 AM EDT

Last month, MotherJones.com broke the story that a private security firm, Beckett Brown International, had spied on Greenpeace and other environmental groups while working for its corporate clients. In today's New York Times, Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser cites the Beckett Brown story and others like it, arguing for congressional hearings on corporate espionage. Doesn't seem hearing-worthy? Maybe you don't know the full story of Beckett Brown. From the piece:

BBI, which was headquartered in Easton, Maryland, on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, worked extensively, according to billing records, for public-relations companies, including Ketchum, Nichols-Dezenhall Communications, and Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin. At the time, these PR outfits were servicing corporate clients fighting environmental organizations opposed to their products or actions. Ketchum, for example, was working for Dow Chemical and Kraft Foods; Nichols-Dezenhall, according to BBI records, was working with Condea Vista, a chemical manufacturing firm that in 1994 leaked up to 47 million pounds of ethylene dichloride, a suspected carcinogen, into the Calcasieu River in Louisiana.

Or what about this, from an internal Beckett Brown document cited in our piece:

Received a call from Ketchum yesterday afternoon re three sites in DC. It seems Taco Bell turned out some product made from bioengineered corn. The chemicals used on the corn have not been approved for human consumption. Hence Taco Bell produced potential glow-in-the-dark tacos. Taco Bell is owned by Kraft. The Ketchum Office, New York, has the ball. They suspect the initiative is being generated from one of three places:
1.Center for Food Safety, 7th & Penn SE
2.Friends of the Earth, 1025 Vermont Ave (Between K & L Streets)
3.GE Food Alert, 1200 18th St NW (18th & M)
#1 is located on 3rd floor. Main entrance is key card. Alley is locked by iron gates. 7 dempsters [sic] in alley—take your pick.
#2 is in the same building as Chile Embassy. Armed guard in lobby & cameras everywhere. There is a dumpster in the alley behind the building. Don't know if it is tied to bldg. or a neighborhood property. Cameras everywhere.
#3 is doable but behind locked iron gates at rear of bldg.

Want more of the dirty details? Read the full story.

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