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.

Get my RSS |

Gingrich: I'd Recommend Pro-Gold Activists for Romney Gold Commission

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 4:00 AM EDT

Ron Paul must be thrilled: After over three decades in the wilderness, the gold standard has returned to the Republican party platform. As Bloomberg reported on Friday, the draft GOP platform—the party's road map for where it wants to lead the country—includes a call for a presidential commission to study pegging the value of the dollar to the price of gold. And even though the primary is long over, Paul is not the only top Republican still pushing for gold to have a big role in Mitt Romney's presidency. 

During the primary, Paul, a long proponent of what he calls "sound money," and later Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, embraced the idea of a gold commission. During the South Carolina primary, Gingrich said that he'd appoint Lewis Lehrman, a banker, and Jim Grant, a prominent investment adviser, to co-chair the gold commission. Both Lehrman and Grant (Paul's pick to replace Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve) are prominent advocates of the gold standard. 

Now that the commission he and Paul supported is part of the draft party platform, I asked Gingrich whether he still supported Lehrman and Grant's appointments—and whether he'd push Mitt Romney to appoint them if elected president. "Yes," he said. "I'd recommend them." Romney himself has expressed skepticism about the gold standard, which he told CNBC's Larry Kudlow in January is not a "magic bullet substitute for economic restraint." He'd be free to ignore the GOP platform and Gingrich's recommendations if elected president. But the inclusion of the commission proposal in the platform, and Gingrich's willingness to press the issue, suggest that Romney will remain under some pressure from his right to at least acknowledge the concerns of gold proponents.

The idea of a gold commission isn't new—Ronald Reagan established one in 1981, but the members voted 15 to 2 against advising a return to gold. (Lehrman was one of the dissenters.) America's monetary policy was based on the gold standard for much of its history, until President Richard Nixon abandoned it for good in 1971. Since then, a small but significant movement, often led by Paul has advocated a return to gold.

Today, Lehrman is the chairman of the Lehrman Institute, which pushes for "prosperity through gold." Its website is thegoldstandardnow.org. Grant is a senior adviser to the group.

Most modern economists are skeptical of the idea, and liberal ones absolutely loathe it. A recent University of Chicago poll of top economists found that zero agreed that "defining a 'dollar' as a specific number of ounces of gold" would lead to better "price-stability and employment outcomes" for "the average American." Paul Krugman, the liberal icon (and target of many Paul fans' ire) wrote Sunday that "under the gold standard America had no major financial panics other than in 1873, 1884, 1890, 1893, 1907, 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1933." Famed economist Milton Friedman, who could not be mistaken for a Krugmanite, famously said "those people who say they believe in a gold standard are fundamentally being very anti-libertarian because what they mean by a gold standard is a governmentally fixed price for gold."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Weekly Standard Defends Ryan on Redefining Rape

| Fri Aug. 24, 2012 5:05 PM EDT

The Weekly Standard's John McCormack says the New York Times is being unfair to Paul Ryan—and he says it's all my fault.

What McCormack is objecting to is a line in a recent Times article noting that Ryan had co-sponsored a bill that tried to "restrict the definition of rape." He says this phrase is imprecise and gives readers the wrong impression of what Ryan and the House GOP were actually trying to do. The bill in question, H.R. 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," passed the House in May 2011 and was supported by Ryan and most House Republicans. It was a grab-bag of abortion foes' favorite proposals. The most controversial measure would have limited the types of rapes that would be eligible for federal abortion funding, changing the guideline from "rape" to "forcible rape." The bill would have also eliminated federal abortion funding for victims of incest who were over 18. Both changes were removed from the bill after a national outcry.

McCormack blames me for giving the Times—and other oulets—a false impression of what the "forcible rape" language would do. In January 2011, I broke the news about the forcible rape language and reported, based on interviews with experts (including a former federal prosecutor), that many kinds of rapes—including drug- and alcohol-aided rapes—could be excluded from the "forcible rape" definition. McCormack says that's "blatantly untrue." He says the "forcible rape" language in H.R. 3 would merely have excluded funding for abortions in cases of statutory rape—which, he goes on to claim, is probably what existing law says anyway. As evidence, he notes that the 2004 edition of the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook requires that attempts to use date-rape drugs to rape someone be classified as forcible rape attempts. He says this makes it clear that drug- and alcohol-aided rapes (in which the victim is incapable of consenting) would still have been eligible for abortion funding if H.R. 3 became law.

Todd Akin, Paul Ryan, and Redefining Rape

| Sun Aug. 19, 2012 6:21 PM EDT
Rep. Paul Ryan (left), now the GOP nominee for vice president, introduces his 2012 budget as Rep. Todd Akin (right) and other congressional Republicans look on.

On Sunday, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who is challenging Sen. Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race, used an interview with a local television station to defend his belief that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape: He claimed that women who are the victims of "legitimate rape" are unlikely to become pregnant. Akin said that the female body has "biological defenses" that prevent rape victims from getting pregnant. (That's not true.) The implication of his position is that if you were raped and became pregnant, you must have actually wanted it—it wasn't really rape.

This isn't the first time Akin has expressed fringe views about rape in the context of the abortion debate. Last year, Akin, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and most of the House GOP cosponsored a bill that would have narrowed the already-narrow exceptions to the laws banning federal funding for abortion—from all cases of rape to cases of "forcible rape."

After I reported on the "forcible rape" language in January 2011, a wave of outcry from abortion rights, progressive, and women's groups led the Republicans to remove it. But a few months later, in a congressional committee report, Republicans wrote that they believed the bill would continue to have the same effect despite the absence of the "forcible" language.

So why was the "forcible" language so important? Pro-life advocates believed they needed to include the word "forcible" in the law to preempt what National Right to Life Committee lobbyist Doug Johnson called a "brazen" effort by Planned Parenthood and other groups to obtain federal funding for abortions for any teenager by (falsely) claiming statutory rape. Abortion rights groups, Johnson warned, wanted to "federally fund the abortion of tens of thousands of healthy babies of healthy moms, based solely on the age of their mothers." Richard Doerflinger, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops'* top anti-abortion lobbyist, echoed Johnson in congressional testimony, arguing that the "forcible" language was "an effort on the part of the sponsors to prevent the opening of a very broad loophole for federally funded abortions for any teenager." Planned Parenthood flatly denied having a plan to open up such a loophole. 

The idea that women who are "legitimate" rape victims can't get pregnant has currency in some corners of the fringe right. Akin embraces it. Does he embrace the conspiracy theory about the need for the "forcible rape" language, too?

*The name of the organization has been corrected.

National Archives Sued Over Financial Crisis Documents

| Wed Aug. 15, 2012 12:45 PM EDT

It's been 18 months since the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC), the bipartisan group charged by Congress with discovering the causes of the 2008 financial meltdown, released its final report (PDF). At the time, the commissioners promised that many of the documents the FCIC gathered during its investigation—including testimony from bank officials and internal bank emails and memos—would "eventually be made public." But the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which holds the documents, has so far refused to release many of them, saying that it has put a five-year restriction on their release. "Eventually," it turns out, means half a decade.

Cause of Action, a Washington transparency watchdog that filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the FCIC documents last year, thinks the American public should not have to wait that long. Late Tuesday, the group sued NARA in federal court in Washington, DC, aiming to force the disclosure of thousands of pages of as-yet-unreleased documents.

"The FCIC had a big impact on the national discussion about what caused the financial crisis and all Americans have an interest in what really happened," Mary Beth Hutchins, Cause of Action's communications director, told Mother Jones. "We have an administration that from day one promised greater transparency in government, and what we've seen is that instead of having the public interest in mind, they're bowing to the whims of this commission. It's important that people be able to draw their own conclusions and judgments in addition to those the commission may have drawn from these documents."

In the lawsuit, Cause of Action writes that NARA's five-year restriction on the release of the documents (except for certain documents FCIC had pre-designated for release) is the same restriction that Phil Angelides, the commission's Democratic chairman, advocated in a letter he sent to NARA in February 2011. But Cause of Action goes on to note that Peter Wallison, a Republican member of the commission, has said that he believes "the public should have access to all FCIC documents except those records provided to the FCIC on condition of confidentiality" and that he was "not even aware" of Angelides' letter, "which expresses a position materially inconsistent with his own views." (Hutchins said Wallison made those statements in phone conversations with Cause of Action's legal team.)

I've reached out to NARA and Angelides for comment on this story; I'll update if they respond. 

You can read Cause of Action's full legal filing here:

 
Wed Jan. 6, 2010 11:25 AM EST
Wed Jan. 6, 2010 10:34 AM EST
Wed Dec. 23, 2009 7:25 AM EST
Tue Dec. 22, 2009 1:38 PM EST
Tue Dec. 22, 2009 12:13 PM EST
Mon Dec. 21, 2009 2:57 PM EST
Mon Dec. 21, 2009 2:05 PM EST
Fri Dec. 18, 2009 11:44 AM EST
Thu Dec. 17, 2009 12:46 PM EST
Mon Dec. 14, 2009 12:42 PM EST
Tue Dec. 8, 2009 5:00 PM EST
Tue Dec. 8, 2009 2:33 PM EST
Tue Dec. 8, 2009 1:43 PM EST
Tue Dec. 8, 2009 12:21 PM EST
Mon Dec. 7, 2009 5:50 PM EST
Mon Dec. 7, 2009 5:05 PM EST
Mon Dec. 7, 2009 4:15 PM EST
Mon Dec. 7, 2009 2:15 PM EST
Mon Dec. 7, 2009 1:54 PM EST
Mon Dec. 7, 2009 1:08 PM EST
Mon Dec. 7, 2009 11:55 AM EST
Fri Dec. 4, 2009 5:17 PM EST
Fri Dec. 4, 2009 3:14 PM EST
Fri Dec. 4, 2009 1:35 PM EST
Fri Dec. 4, 2009 12:58 PM EST
Fri Dec. 4, 2009 12:35 PM EST
Thu Dec. 3, 2009 6:14 PM EST
Thu Dec. 3, 2009 5:42 PM EST
Wed Dec. 2, 2009 12:43 PM EST
Tue Dec. 1, 2009 2:37 PM EST
Tue Dec. 1, 2009 12:41 PM EST
Mon Nov. 30, 2009 6:09 PM EST
Mon Nov. 30, 2009 1:41 PM EST
Mon Nov. 30, 2009 12:57 PM EST
Mon Nov. 30, 2009 12:36 PM EST
Wed Nov. 25, 2009 7:19 AM EST
Tue Nov. 24, 2009 8:18 PM EST
Mon Nov. 23, 2009 10:14 AM EST
Fri Nov. 20, 2009 11:49 AM EST
Fri Nov. 20, 2009 11:30 AM EST
Fri Nov. 20, 2009 11:13 AM EST
Wed Nov. 18, 2009 4:11 PM EST
Wed Nov. 18, 2009 3:30 PM EST
Wed Nov. 18, 2009 11:56 AM EST
Wed Nov. 18, 2009 11:40 AM EST
Wed Nov. 18, 2009 10:41 AM EST
Wed Nov. 18, 2009 10:17 AM EST