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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Hey Kids, Wanna Listen to "Peter and the Wolf"? Then Pay Up.

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 8:45 AM EDT

You—the public—once essentially owned the Sergei Prokofiev classic Peter and the Wolf. You could play it for your friends and charge admission. You could remix it with other music. You could write a book called Peter and the Wolf and Zombies. You didn't have to worry about getting sued because the work was in the public domain. 

Then, in 1994, Congress suddenly snatched Peter and the Wolf and millions of other works out of the public domain. The move was part of a deal to secure broader copyright protection for American works in foreign countries. (Not that it worked very well: As anyone who has ever been there knows, it's not exactly hard to find DVDs of newly released Hollywood movies on the streets of Moscow.)

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Golan v. Holder, a case that addresses whether it was constitutional for Congress to remove Peter and the Wolf and other works from the public domain. The case was brought by University of Denver professor Lawrence Golan, a conductor who loves Peter and the Wolf but can no longer afford the fees the copyright holders charge for the sheet music. I listened to David Bowie's narration of Peter and the Wolf (something that may have not even been created if Peter and the Wolf hadn't been in the public domain at the time) about 100 times growing up, so the prospect of not being able to take my children to see a live performance of the piece is a real bummer.

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New Yorker: US May Have Benefited From Pakistani Journalist's Murder

| Mon Sep. 12, 2011 10:15 AM EDT
Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani Al Qaeda leader, was reportedly killed by a US drone strike in June. The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins has suggested that strike was made possible by the interrogation and murder of a Pakistani journalist.

Dexter Filkins has a story in next week's New Yorker, available online, about the late-May murder of Pakistani reporter Syed Shahzad. There is a lot of narrative in the piece, but there's also a good bit of news. Filkins, who was in contact with Shahzad before his death, suggests that the reporter's beating and murder (allegedly at the hands of Pakistan's army intelligence service, the ISI) could have produced information that led to the death of Al Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri in a drone strike four days after Shahzad's body was found:

Given the brief time that passed between Shahzad’s death and Kashmiri’s, a question inevitably arose: Did the Americans find Kashmiri on their own? Or did they benefit from information obtained by the I.S.I. during its detention of Shahzad? If so, Shahzad’s death would be not just a terrible example of Pakistani state brutality; it would be a terrible example of the collateral damage sustained in America's war on terror....

...The evidence is fragmentary, but it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Pakistani intelligence agents gave the C.I.A. at least some of the information that pinpointed Kashmiri. Likewise, it seems possible that at least some of that information may have come from Shahzad, either during his lethal interrogation or from data taken from his cell phone. In the past, the I.S.I. and the C.I.A. have coöperated extensively on the U.S. drone program....

...Bruce Riedel, the former C.I.A. officer, said that helping the agency kill Kashmiri would have made eminent sense to the I.S.I. Kashmiri had become an enemy of the Pakistani state, and had maintained potentially embarrassing contacts with Pakistani security services.

"If you start from the premise that the Pakistanis had something to do with hiding bin Laden, then you have to assume that they were trying very hard to put everything back into the tube," Riedel said. "And so it would have made sense for them to get rid of Saleem Shahzad. And Kashmiri, too."

Needless to say, the mere possibility that the US was able to kill Kashmiri because Shahzad was lethally interrogated raises some difficult questions. Anyway, read the whole thing.

Obama's Judge Problem

| Fri Sep. 9, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

President Obama is learning why judicial nominations matter—the hard way.

On Thursday, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed two lawsuits challenging the Democrats' health care reform law. Four of the twelve judges on the 4th Circuit are Obama appointees, and the three-judge panel that made the decision included two of them. But last month, in the 11th Circuit, a differently constituted panel came to a very different decision on the constitutionality of health care reform. The contrast between the two decisions shows just how important the judicial nomination process is—and how, by moving slowly on nominations, the Obama administration has imperiled its signature legislative accomplishment.

On August 12, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the portion of the health care law that requires Americans to either purchase health insurance or pay a fine. The decision was 2-to-1, with Joel Dubina, whom George H.W. Bush nominated to the appeals court, and Frank Hull, a conservative Bill Clinton nominee, voting that the health insurance requirement is unconstitutional. Stanley Marcus, a judge who was originally appointed by Ronald Reagan but was elevated to the appeals court by Clinton, provided the lone dissenting vote. 

Many legal experts (and several other courts, including the 4th and 6th Circuits) think the 11th Circuit panel was wrong, and argue the individual mandate is constitutional. But that's not the point: In an important sense, the 11th Circuit decision and future decisions like it are the Obama administration's own fault.

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