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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CNN Idiocy Watch, Day 1757: Rubber Duckies of DEATH

| Wed Oct. 17, 2007 10:01 AM PDT

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And I quote: "Still ahead here in the Situation Room: a chemical in lots of household products that could harm all of us. It could harm your reproductive system as well. One state is so worried it's issuing a sweeping new ban... Stay with us, you're in the Situation Room."

They played the story a full 28 minutes later.

A little more info from CNN's correspondent on the "deadly chemical":

"THE AGENTS ARE CALLED 'PHTHALATES,' WOLF... SOUNDS OBSCURE... BUT IT'S VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO HAVE COME IN CONTACT WITH THEM SOMETIME IN YOUR LIFE."

"THE QUESTION IS: ARE THEY AS DANGEROUS AS SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE?"

Apparently it's in rubber duckies. Unfortunately, by the time they played this Very Important Story (28 minutes after the teaser), thousands of Americans had died from a chemical in nail polish and rubber duckies. Tragic. Damn You, Wolf Blitzer! BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS.

Breaking News: Next on CNN—Could a major cable news company be responsible for the deaths of thousands of rubber-ducky-loving-toddlers? Find out right after these messages from our pharmaceutical-company sponsors! But don't go away—You could die!

This issue's "Practical Values" column has more on Phthalates.

There's also this:


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Greed: Why You Pay A Higher Tax Rate Than Buffett

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 12:34 PM PDT

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The incomparable Mark Shields (any News Hour fans out there?) quotes Mr. Warren Buffett:

In my office, I have 18 or so people there, and I ask them to compute line 63, which is their tax, and then add payroll taxes, and compare it to line 43, which is their taxable income. And these people who make anywhere from $50,000 to $750,000 a year ... and the lowest person in the office pays a higher rate than I do. I paid 17.7 percent last year, counting payroll taxes. ... The [employees'] average was twice mine. [Private equity managers] say they fix up companies and they get paid for doing that. On balance, they're paying a 15 percent tax rate on that and no payroll taxes, and somebody that fixes up the restroom is paying 15.3 percent in payroll taxes, just to start with. [The janitor who works] for peanuts pays a higher tax rate than people who fix up companies [for] hundreds of millions of dollars annually in income [emphasis added].

That's right: on average, Warren Buffett's employees pay twice as much of their income in taxes as he does. That means you probably pay a higher percentage of your income in taxes than the second-richest person in the world. Thank God the new Democratic Congress is ignoring the fact that the industry gave "77 percent of its $8.2 million in donations to Democratic candidates" and cracking down on unfairly regressive taxation anyway. Oh, wait:

In Washington, D.C. last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office confirmed that the Senate will take no action this year on closing the tax loophole that saves private equity and other private investment fund managers an estimated $12 billion a year.

So what does all that money buy besides huge yachts? Well, it looks like there's a sale on politicians! Get them while the getting is good!

The SecDef Tells The Truth

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 11:35 AM PDT

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From McClatchy:

"Following contentious and unproductive encounters with Russian officials on Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates Saturday said he isn't certain that Russia is interested in cooperating with the United States to defend Europe against Iranian missiles or whether Moscow simply wants to stop the U.S. from building missile defenses in Eastern Europe."

It's pretty shocking that news reports on this subject haven't made Russia's objection clear (maybe because U.S. and Russian diplomats have been beating around the bush to the press). But let's spell it out: Russia does not want American missile defenses in Eastern Europe. They do not want them on a train, they do not want them on a plane, they do not want them here or there, they do not want them anywhere.

Former Lobbyists Say the Darnedest Things

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 9:43 AM PDT

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Dean Kleckner, who used to run the farmer's lobby and took corn and soybean subsidies for years, calls for farm subsidy reform in today's New York Times. "It's obvious that we need to transform our public support for farmers," he says. "There's something fundamentally perverse about a system that has farmers hoping for low prices at harvest time — it's like praying for bad weather. But that's precisely what happens, because those low prices mean bigger checks from Washington."

Still waiting to hear Doug Brooks come out against military contractors.

Halo 3: Now You Can Kill Mother%*#$@#*s in Church

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 3:07 PM PDT

Halo 3, the violent video game that made Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars in its first week on store shelves, is now being used to attract young men to church, the New York Times reports today. "Teens are our 'fish,'" one youth pastor wrote in a letter to parents. "So we've become creative in baiting our hooks."

The headline of the article is "Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church," which seems to be trying to paint church leaders as hypocritical for using Halo parties to get kids in the door, and then selling them the gospel. Sure, being against violent media and then using that same media to recruit churchgoers is hypocritical. But even though the author mentions evangelical opposition to violent games, he never presents an example of a pastor who condemned violent games and then used them for outreach. Without that, there is no evidence of hypocrisy. There are just some pastors disagreeing with other pastors about what is appropriate.

Simply believing in the 10 Commandments and then playing a violent video game is not hypocritical. Killing virtual aliens is not equivalent to violating the 5th (sometimes 6th) commandment, and it's insane for the Times to imply that it is. Most religious scholars agree that killing animals doesn't violate "Thou shalt not kill." Why would killing imaginary characters be prohibited?

But even if the author didn't want to hunt down actual evidence of hypocrisy, there were still plenty of other interesting questions left unasked. As I wrote in an article two weeks ago, the Halo games have always been an online playground for bigots of all stripes. Homophobia, racism, and antisemitism are rampant in the smack talk that is a staple of the multiplayer game. So it's especially interesting to learn that some of the young men (they're almost all men) who are playing Halo are doing it at church. Are they shocked to hear what other players say? Do their pastors insist that they play with the mute button on? Or, more disturbingly, are some of these young Christian soldiers and the hate-spewers one and the same?

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