Mojo - October 2011

ACTUAL Death Panel Approves US Kill List

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 10:11 AM EDT

Reuters' Mark Hosenball has an amazing story about the process by which US citizens suspected of terrorism are placed on the government's secret "kill list." (The list famously included extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki before he was killed in Yemen.) Hosenball received two basic narratives about how the process works, one in which the president has to personally approve someone being placed on the list, and one in which someone is removed from the list only if the president objects:

They said targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC "principals," meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval. The panel of principals could have different memberships when considering different operational issues, they said.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

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

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 9:45 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.

Chart of the Day: Crisis of Confidence

| Thu Oct. 6, 2011 9:35 AM EDT

Via Pew, this chart sort of speaks for itself. Support for the nation's biggest institutions (you can add in the media, if you want) have very steadily declined over the last four decades. When you add in a horrible economy, it's really no surprise why so many people have taken to the streets to protest over the last three years:

Courtesy of Pew ResearchCourtesy of Pew Research

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 6, 2011

Thu Oct. 6, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

Staff Sgt. Bill Cenna prepares to move a patient on a litter while an HH-60G Pavehawk lands during training Sept. 21, 2011, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The training focused on quick-care under fire and also gave training to Baker Company, 3rd Platoon, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) on how to react when pararescuemen arrive. Cena is a 212th Rescue Squadron pararescueman. (US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Zachary Wolf)

Boehner Against Job-Saving China Currency Bill—WTF?

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 7:05 PM EDT

For years, China has artificially deflated the value of its currency by some 40 percent, a huge export subsidy that cripples American manufacturers. "Chinese currency manipulation is the single biggest reason why so many Americans are still jobless," says Peter Morici, a University of Maryland business professor and former chief economist with the US International Trade Commission. Eliminating the practice, economists estimate, would boost American exports by $125 billion a year and create 900,000 US jobs. "The Chinese have figured out that this advantages them even though it's unfair," Morici says. "And they are not going to change it until we take action."

Congress seems to agree. A bipartisan majority in the Senate has agreed to vote as early as today on the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Act of 2011, a bill that would require the Treasury Department to do more to address foreign currency manipulation. Similar legislation in the House, the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, has an unprecedented 225 cosponsors, including 61 Republicans. But despite bipartisan will to tackle the problem, House Speaker John Boehner has shown no sign that he'll let the bill come up for a vote. "I think it's pretty dangerous for us to move legislation in the United States Congress forcing someone to deal with the value of their currency," Boehner said on Tuesday. "This is well beyond what I think Congress ought to be doing."

Eric Cantor Aide Forms Super-PAC—Is He Angling for VP?

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 1:25 PM EDT
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is getting his own super-PAC.

If you're a running for national office in 2012, there are a few things you need to do: 1.) Do not hire Mark Penn; 2.) Don't tell your base that they "don't have a heart" (they won't like it); 3.) Set up a nominally independent super-PAC—preferably with a longtime ally at the helm—dedicated to raising corporate cash and spending it on your behalf. Since 2009's Citizens United decision, independent super-PACs, which can raise unlimited sums and spend it as they please—provided they don't communicate with any candidate—are all but required for serious candidates. Rick Perry has two of them, for instance.

And now, National Journal's Chris Frates reports that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has gotten in the game, too—paving the way for a spot on 2012 ticket:

The PAC will be run by Cantor's deputy chief of staff John Murray and would give Cantor a vehicle he could use to run for vice president, should the opportunity arise, said a source close to the majority leader's office, who asked not to be named because the source was not authorized to speak publicly. Murray's departure from Cantor's office is imminent, the source said.

Cantor was floated as a potential vice presidential pick in 2008, but one year later a McCain aide called those reports a "complete and total joke." He was briefly mentioned as 2012 presidential candidate (mainly because he was raising a lot of money), but shot down those rumors. He has not endorsed a candidate yet, although he had publicly urged Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to run.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Chart of the Day: Clarence Thomas' Non-Disclosure Form

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 1:20 PM EDT

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is under fire from Democrats and liberal advocacy groups who contend that he may have violated the Ethics in Government Act by failing to disclose the sources of income for his wife Virginia Thomas. Places like the Heritage Foundation, which has been a vocal opponent of the Obama health care reform law, were paying Virginia Thomas large amounts of money during the years that her husband reported she had no income. (The health care law, of course, is likely to come before the Supreme Court in the next year.)

Initially, the liberal watchdog group Common Cause estimated that Virginia Thomas had made about $700,000 in the years her husband was claiming she made nothing. But the group has recently come up with new figures showing Virginia Thomas actually earned around $1.6 million—more than twice as much as the original estimate. That's a decent chunk of change the Thomas family was earning from a party with an interest in what could be one of the court's biggest cases in years.

Thomas has amended his disclosure forms to correct the omissions and has claimed that he misunderstood how to fill out the forms. But Common Cause noticed that Thomas had actually filled the forms out properly for many years before he suddenly stopped recording his wife's employers. "There is now more than enough evidence to merit a formal inquiry as to whether Justice Thomas willfully failed to make legally required disclosures, perhaps for as long as 13 years," Common Cause president Bob Edgar said in a statement. "Given that we now know he correctly completed the reports in prior years, it's hardly plausible—indeed it's close to unbelievable—that Justice Thomas did not understand the instructions."

Common Cause provides a breakdown of the missing income here: Courtesy Common CauseCourtesy Common Cause

Obama: Still Letting Child Soldiers Be Soldiers

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 1:00 PM EDT
Former child soldiers in the Congo.

Late last year, the Obama administration quietly waived restrictions on military aid to Chad, Yemen, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—four countries with records of actively recruiting child soldiers. Those restrictions were a key part of 2008's Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA)—a law that was co-sponsored by then-Senator Obama—which requires that such assistance be yanked for countries that recruit soldiers under the age of 15.

The waivers angered human rights advocates, who were blindsided by the announcement. So the White House promptly deployed Samantha Power, the National Security Council's human rights czar, to smooth things over via conference call. The Obama administration's argument: The four offending countries hadn't had time to comply with the law. Power also explained that the waivers would only be in effect for one year. "Our judgment was to brand them, name them, shame them, and then try to leverage assistance in a fashion to make this work," Power said.

Newt Gingrich Doesn't Need No Stinking Economic Advisers

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 12:50 PM EDT
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has no problem with flying solo. After his campaign imploded this summer, with the departure of his longtime spokesman, campaign manager, and key aides around the country, Gingrich took it in stride, forging on with his thin, debt-ridden campaign. On Monday, Gingrich promised to bring that go-it-alone mentality should he win the White House in 2012. (RealClearPolitics' average polling data shows Gingrich mired in fifth place, with 9.2 percent of support. Mitt Romney leads with 22 percent.)

At a gathering of the Conservative Club of Des Moines, Gingrich said he wouldn't make the mistake of surrounding himself with sharp-elbowed, opinionated economic advisers offering conflicting advice—a criticism leveled at President Obama, most clearly in Ron Suskind's book Confidence Men. Here's what Gingrich said, as quoted by Huffington Post's Michael J. Hunt:

Calling the President "the best food stamp president ever," Gingrich didn't hesitate to take further jabs at Obama by saying that he "won't need to rely on [Treasury Secretary] Timothy Geithner or [former White House economic adviser] Larry Summers for counsel when I am president," and said "the best economic advisor I'll have is me." This statement seemed to resonate with the audience members.

This, of course, is the same Gingrich whose campaign racked up $1 million in debt in a short period of time (and is still paying it off), and the same Gingrich who, in 1993 as House speaker, slammed President Bill Clinton's budget, which raised taxes, as a job-killer and a big step down the road to recession. Of course, the opposite happened: Thanks in part to Clinton's policies, the US economy added 21 million jobs during his spell as president. The economy soared through the 1990s. Gingrich got it wrong.

Gingrich, you could say, is promising the opposite of what Reagan preached. After all, it was Reagan who described his leadership style thusly: "Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere." Surely Gingrich—a history buff and a Reagan lover if there ever was one—must know that defying the Gipper is no way to win the GOP presidential nod.

House Dems Call For Hearings on Clarence Thomas

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 11:37 AM EDT
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

This October marks the 20th anniversary of the infamous confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in which he almost didn't make it to the high court due to allegations that he'd sexually harassed Anita Hill at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. House Democrats would apparently like to commemorate this event by subjecting Thomas to a new round of hearings on the Hill. On the steps of the Supreme Court this morning, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and others held a press conference calling on the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings investigating some of Thomas's alleged ethical lapses. These include allegations that he failed to disclose at least $1.6 million in income earned by his wife Virginia, who worked for the conservative Heritage Foundation and has been an active opponent of the Obama health care law. Thomas has also been accused of taking unreported free trips on a corporate jet and a yacht from real estate magnate Harlan Crow.

Blumenauer wrote to the House Judiciary committee members:

"Reports of potential ethical lapses by Justice Thomas’s actions give rise to concerns about conflicts of interest undermining appellants’ rights of due process and also raise substantive questions about Justice Thomas’s ability to retain his seat. We urge that your committee hold hearings regarding the nature of these questions, their factual basis, and their potential to undermine the public’s trust in the Supreme Court."

The request comes on the heels of demands by 19 House members that the US Judicial Conference, which oversees the federal courts, ask the Justice Department to investigate Thomas's alleged violations of the Ethics in Government Act for all of the omissions on his financial disclosure forms. Thomas has said it was simply an oversight and that he misunderstood how to fill out the forms. He has since amended the forms to include the missing income.  (In a statement, Slaughter has dismissed his explanation saying, "To believe that Justice Thomas didn't know how to fill out a basic disclosure form is absurd.")

None of the congressional grandstanding is likely to amount to much, given how difficult it is to remove a sitting Supreme Court justice from the bench. Besides, House Republicans would have to agree to any hearing on Thomas's conduct, and that's never going to happen. But liberal activists and their partners in Congress aren't necessarily looking for Thomas to step down. They want him to recuse himself from voting on the Obama health care reform law that the court is likely to hear before the next presidential election. Of course, conservatives are doing the same thing. They're waging a concerted campaign to pressure new Justice Elena Kagan to also recuse herself from the health care case based on her service in the Obama administration as solicitor general. In the end, both justices will probably ignore all the background noise. But the fight will certainly make for interesting political theater along the way.