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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Presidential Candidates Want Foxes Guarding the Henhouse

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 12:11 PM EDT

In his column today, Paul Krugman notes that former Sen. Phil Gramm, a major advocate for de-regulation of the financial services industry and thus one of the two men perhaps most responsible for the current economic crisis, is John McCain's chief economic adviser.

Aside from Gramm, Krugman's main scapegoat is Alan Greenspan, who Sen. Hillary Clinton now wants to appoint to a "an emergency working group on foreclosures" to "recommend new ways to confront the nation's housing finance troubles," according to the Associated Press. Barack Obama, like Clinton, has received oodles of money from Wall Street. Krugman says those donors "surely believe that they're buying something in return." Let's hope all three candidates are not as beholden to the financial services industry as they seem.

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Lessig Launches "Change Congress" Reform Effort

| Thu Mar. 20, 2008 4:13 PM EDT

larry-lessig.jpg

"Just because there's no personal corruption does not mean that this institution is independent. It doesn't mean that there's no institutional corruption."

That's how Stanford Law Professor and Creative Commons founder Larry Lessig described the U.S. Congress at an event at the National Press Club today where he alleged that Congress "is driven by interests that ought not to be driving it." Lessig is far from the first person to bemoan the influence of money in Washington politics, and he acknowledged as much in his lecture. But he is offering a new, well-thought-out way of tackling a problem that he says causes government to consistently make the wrong decision in "easy cases," where the proper course of action is obvious. (Lessig pointed to copyright terms, nutrition guidelines, and global warming as three examples of "easy cases" Congress gets wrong).

Lessig's new group, "Change Congress", will try to "leverage and amplify" the work of the existing government reform movement. Run by Lessig and Howard Dean/John Edwards campaign manager Joe Trippi, Change Congress will use an internet-centered model similar to that of the incredibly successful Creative Commons project Lessig founded in 2001. (Creative Commons uses the internet to give artists and content creators an easy way to clarify how they want copyright to apply to their works. And it's how MotherJones.com and websites can license so many great flickr.com photos for free.)

New Deadline in Missing WH Emails Case

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 8:10 PM EDT

A federal judge told the Bush administration today that it has three days to give him a good reason why he shouldn't order the White House to make copies of every computer hard drive in the Executive Office of the President (EOP). Judge John M. Facciola's ruling (PDF) is a major victory for two Washington non-profits, the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who have been battling the administration in court to ensure the preservation of missing White House emails.

The emails, which could number in the millions, are from between 2003 and 2005 and could include information about the runup to the war in Iraq and the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA agent. (Need to catch up? Read our full coverage of the missing White House emails story.)

In another victory for the plaintiffs, the Judge noted the fact, reported by Mother Jones in January but largely ignored in the mainstream press, that the White House's regular 'recycling' of email backup tapes prior to October 2003 indicates that emails between March and October 2003 are probably not preserved anywhere. This contradicts what Theresa Payton, the White House Office of Administration's (OA) Chief Information Officer, said in January when she claimed that "substantially all" the missing emails would be preserved on backup tapes (PDF). From the Judge's order:

It is nevertheless true that if e-mails have not been properly archived as plaintiffs allege, and copies of those e-mails do not exist on back-up tapes, then the obliteration of data upon which those e-mails may be reconstructed threatens the plaintiffs with irreparable harm. This appears to be the case for any e-mails that were not properly archived between March 2003 and October 2003, during which time no back-up tapes exist. [Emphasis added.]

Facciola's ruling indicates that he takes the plaintiffs' concerns seriously and understands that time is of the essence, since every day that goes by makes it increasingly likely that potentially recoverable email data will be permanently lost. If Facciola does order copies made, it will mean that "while the clock is ticking [the emails] are not going to disappear," explains Meredith Fuchs, the NSA's General Counsel.

The Only Muslim in Congress on the Obama-Muslim Smear

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 3:03 PM EST

Hillary Clinton is trying to take advantage of the emails that allege Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the only Muslim in Congress (and a man who, unlike Obama, actually was sworn in on a Koran), tells Huffington Post. Money quote:

People are going to throw some stuff on the wall and see what sticks and at this point the Clinton camp is trying to do whatever it can to be successful. And if that means benefiting from political bigotry, I don't think they will try to put a stop to it.

Clinton told 60 Minutes straight out that she does not think Obama is a Muslim. But she also said that there was "nothing to base [the smear] on, as far as I know" (emphasis added). Ellison says the qualifier is an attempt to "seed voter doubts," according to HuffPo.

The Clinton campaign denies Ellison's allegations.

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