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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Judge: Current and Former White House Aides Must Comply With Congressional Subpoenas

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 12:56 PM EDT

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U.S. District Judge John Bates issued a ruling today that former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten must comply with the subpoenas issued to them by the House Judiciary Committee. The subpoenas were issued as part of Congress's investigation into the allegedly politically-motivated firing of eight US attorneys. The White House had argued that Miers and Bolten were immune from testifying or sending documents to Congress, but Bush-appointed judge John D. Bates was having none of it. Bates, regarded as a pro-administration judge, said in his decision that the White House's claim that its aides were always and in all circumstances immune from subpoenas was "unprecedented" and "without any support in case law." Glenn Greenwald, who goes deeper into the legal implications of this ruling, pointed to a passage from page 78 of the ruling as especially important:

The Executive cannot identify a single judicial opinion that recognizes absolute immunity for senior presidential advisors in this or any other context. That simple but critical fact bears repeating: the asserted immunity claim here is entirely unsupported by case law. In fact, there is Supreme Court authority that is all but conclusive on this question and that powerfully suggests that such advisors to not enjoy absolute immunity.

That's a pretty serious smackdown of the administration coming from the same judge who said in 2002 that Dick Cheney could keep his Energy Task Force records secret from the Government Accountability Office. The White House will likely appeal the ruling, but it's unlikely to get a judge more favorably inclined towards the Bush administration than Bates. Still, the appeal will keep Bates' ruling—which would have required Miers to testify and required both Bolten and Miers to hand over documents—from being enforced until there is a final judgment. And as in the White House emails case, the Bush administration may be able to simply run out the clock.

Photo by flickr user dcjohn used under a Creative Commons license.

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McCain Camp Tries To Spin Away "Disgrace" Comment

| Wed Jul. 9, 2008 4:32 PM EDT

On Monday, at a town hall meeting in Denver, John McCain said this:

Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.

In this quote, McCain was essentially saying that the problem with Social Security is that Social Security is Social Security, instead of something else. He is attacking the basic funding mechanism for the 75-year-old program. But now, with the McCain "disgrace" comment being picked up all over the web, the McCain campaign is trying to backtrack. ABC's Jake Tapper spoke with a McCain spokesman, Brian Rogers, who said this:

[T]he disgrace is our failure to fix the long-run imbalance in Social Security—a failure of leadership evidenced by our willingness to kick to problem to the next generation of leaders. He's also describing the looming and increasing demographic pressures confronting the Social Security system and Washington's utter failure to address it.

In essence, Rogers is claiming that McCain's "disgrace" comment was taken out of context—that he was not applying the word "disgrace" to Social Security's funding mechanism, but rather to the "demographic pressures confronting the Social Security system and Washington's utter failure to address it."

Unfortunately for the McCain campaign, which is beginning to realize the mistake it made by attacking Social Security, Rogers' argument doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The Denver town hall wasn't the only place McCain attacked Social Security this week. From yesterday's post:

Now, before you think, "Wow, that must be a slip of the tongue, he can't possibly mean that," please note that McCain said essentially the same thing to John Roberts on CNN this morning. From the transcript:
On the privatization of accounts, which you just mentioned, I would like to respond to that. I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money which is their taxes and put it in an account which has their name on it. Now, that's a voluntary thing, it's for younger people, it would not affect any present-day retirees or the system as necessary. So let's describe it for what it is. They pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken, that's why we can fix it. [Emphasis added.]

McCain said the same thing on CNN that he did in the town hall: the problem with Social Security—"why it's broken"—is that young people, "pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees." That's not out of context. It's what he said. McCain's problem with Social Security is with its basic structure.

The DNC held a conference call today about McCain's comment. It seems smart to pick up on this—it's the real thing. With this comment showing his antipathy toward the fundamentals of Social Security, McCain has indeed touched the "third rail" of American politics. On the DNC call, Ed Coyle, the president of the Alliance for Retired Americans, referred to McCain's comment as "anti-senior" and said he hopes the press will ask McCain to elaborate on what he could have meant. That's a reasonable request.

John McCain Thinks Social Security Is A "Disgrace"

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 4:42 PM EDT

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On Monday, during a town hall in Denver, John McCain proposed a radical "fix" for the way Social Security is funded. Responding to a questioner who claimed Social Security "will not be there" when current workers retire (which is wrong), McCain said this:

Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.

As anyone who knows anything about Social Security understands, "paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers" is pretty much the functional definition of Social Security. Always has been. That's what John McCain is calling an "absolute disgrace."

Update: The McCain campaign has responded to a question about his "disgrace" comment from ABC's Jake Tapper. We have full coverage here.

Jared Bernstein, the director of the Living Standards program at the Economic Policy Institute, said in an email that he was shocked by McCain's statement:

That is truly an amazing quote. It's like he's saying, "I just found out that taxes come from people...that's a disgrace." It betrays a really quite scary lack of knowledge about basic government.... I know he's not into this kind of stuff, but ... it would be hard not to know about the intergenerational financing of Social Security. It's the biggest government transfer—1/5 of the damn budget. I guess the quote suggests he knows about the financing, but the way he says it, it sounds like he just found out and is shocked.
I can't imagine how this will play if it goes at all viral. Maybe Social Security is no longer the third rail, but to call it a disgrace ought to be seen as over the top. On the other hand, maybe people will agree with him.

Dean Baker, an economist and the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, also weighed in by email, writing, "McCain's position on Social Security is that it is a disgrace. He said so himself."

Now, before you think, "Wow, that must be a slip of the tongue, he can't possibly mean that," please note that McCain said essentially the same thing to John Roberts on CNN this morning. From the transcript:

On the privatization of accounts, which you just mentioned, I would like to respond to that. I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money which is their taxes and put it in an account which has their name on it. Now, that's a voluntary thing, it's for younger people, it would not affect any present-day retirees or the system as necessary. So let's describe it for what it is. They pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken, that's why we can fix it. [Emphasis added.]

Here, McCain is saying, again, that the problem with Social Security is that Social Security is Social Security, instead of something else. He's saying the system is broken because young people "pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees." But that is the definition of the system. McCain is objecting to the basic structure of Social Security.

That's not all.

The Policy Side of Obama's Public Financing Opt-Out

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 11:00 AM EDT

As David and Jonathan have mentioned, Barack Obama has announced that he will opt-out of the public financing system for the general election.

It seems obvious, as David noted in his article, that Obama's decision was made for political expediency and was not the principled stand his campaign is hoping people will see it as. The media has done a good job of covering the political side of this story. Obama is making a politically expedient decision and essentially going back on his "Yes" answer to a questionnaire that asked whether he would forgo private financing if his opponents did the same. But the other part of this story, the policy side, is sorely missing.

Court: White House Doesn't Have To Release Documents Relating to Missing Emails

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 2:08 PM EDT

Even though the White House Office of Administration (OA) has complied with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for decades, a court yesterday supported the Bush administration's claim that the OA is not a federal agency and therefore not subject to the FOIA. The Bush administration made the claim last August. The court dismissed a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which was using the FOIA to seek documents from the OA about missing White House emails. The decision means the OA will not have to release its documents to CREW, which had hoped to use them in a separate lawsuit that aims to force the recovery and preservation of any missing emails.

While the ruling is a setback for CREW and the National Security Archive (NSA), its co-plaintiff in the White House emails lawsuit, the battle is far from over. CREW plans to appeal this decision. In the meantime, the main lawsuit, which focuses on the recovery and preservation of the emails, will carry on without the OA documents. CREW and the NSA already have access to some information about the OA's email failures because House government oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif) obtained and released some of that information earlier this year. Recent developments in the main lawsuit have favored the plaintiffs, with a magistrate judge issuing recommendations that the White House didn't like, including one that suggested the White House be ordered to secure portable devices, like BlackBerrys, that could contain versions of some of the missing emails. The judge in that case could still force the OA to take measures to recover and preserve missing emails. But each day that goes by until then will make any deleted emails present in "slack space" on hard drives harder to recover, and get the Bush White House one day closer to running out the clock.

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