Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Report: Tea Party's Favorite Snake Needs Government Aid

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 12:50 PM EDT
Snakes on the wane: The eastern diamondback rattler has lost 97 percent of its habitat.

Since the tea party movement rose to prominence in early 2009, the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag has been a ubiquitous presence at everything from health care protests to campaign stops. It features the Revolutionary War-era slogan, along with a coiled rattlesnake, because, as Benjamin Franklin explained, the rattler "never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders."

But the flag doesn't feature just any snake; it's a eastern diamondback rattlesnake—and despite what the flag says, lots of people seem to be treading on its natural habitat. According to a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity, the species could be nearing extinction unless the federal government intervenes. Scientific American reports that the CBD, along with Protect All Living Species and the delightfully acronymed One More Generation, have petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to classify the eastern diamondback rattlesnake as an endangered species. The rattler is down to 3 percent of its original habitat, and according to the CBD, its population has fallen from 3 million to 100,000. From the report:

"The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is a wildlife icon of North America," said biologist Bruce Means, president and executive director of the Coastal Plains Institute, in a prepared statement. Means was also one of the petitioners. "Africa has its lion, Asia its tiger, and we can boast of this marvelous 'Don't Tread On Me' snake. Like so many others, it's a wildlife treasure that we must not allow to go extinct. Remaining habitat for the snake must be preserved, and negative public attitudes toward these nonaggressive animals must be reversed."

But how will this sit with tea partiers? As my colleague Kate Sheppard has reported, many tea partiers view the Endangered Species Act as a tool of an overreaching federal government—if not something even more nefarious. In Florida, conservative activists are fighting to roll back manatee protection rules because they believe the regulations are part of a United Nations plan called "Agenda 21," which they fear will force humans to live in designated areas and turn the rest of the planet into protected biosphere reserves.

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Anti-Immigrant Activist Warns of Obama Plot to End "White America"

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 9:27 AM EDT
President Barack Obama is secretly plotting to bring an end to "White America," according to one conservative activist.

Is President Obama allowing millions of Central Americans to live in the United States illegally as part of his secret plan to destroy "White America"? According to William Gheen of the group Americans For Legal Immigration, the answer is a resounding "yes." Gheen told a conservative talk radio show earlier this week that if things don't improve under "Dictator Obama," patriotic Americans may resort to possibly violent, "revolutionary means." (Gheen, as Media Matters pointed out, has been a frequent presence on Fox News and at tea party rallies). Here's what Gheen told talk show host Janet Mefferd:

What Janet Napolitano has spent most of her time doing in the last couple of months has been, one, preparing the new spy network that's available now, the new data-collecting, see everything you do online, beyond the normal terrorist list that they’re creating, they’re creating a much larger list now of people who might be troublesome here in the country. And putting out videos and propaganda telegraphing what I believe to be a conflict with White America they’re preparing for after they get another 10 or 15 million people in the country to back them up...

We're no longer referring to him as President Barack Obama, our national organization has made the decision and made the announcement we now refer to him as Dictator Barack Obama. That's what he is. And basically at this point, if you're looking for a peaceful, political recourse there really isn't one that we can think of, and I'm really not sure what to tell people out there than I guess they need to make decisions soon to just accept whatever comes next or some type of extra-political activities that I can't really talk about because they're all illegal and violent.

Gheen has since clarified (sort of) that he doesn't personally support violence as a political tool, but believes President Obama isn't leaving freedom-loving Americans with much a choice. (Gheen previously made news when he called Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) gay at a tea party rally and alleged that Graham's supposedly closeted lifestyle was being used as blackmail to force him to adopt more moderate stances on immigration.)

It's worth noting that Gheen's conspiracy theory, while extreme, isn't so far removed from what actual elected officials are saying. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who famously suggested that terrorists were smuggling babies across the border as part of a stealth jihad, revealed on Tuesday that Democrats were secretly planning to register undocumented residents to vote in the November elections. Gohmert, citing no one in particular, alleged that it would be part of a "quid pro quo"—"we allow you to stay illegally and make sure you go down and vote." ACORN!

Rick Perry Vows to Defund Planned Parenthood

| Wed Aug. 24, 2011 12:55 PM EDT
Texas Governor Rick Perry has pledged to severely curtail reproductive rights if elected president.

Pledges, if you haven't heard, are all the rage in the Republican party, so now that he's squarely in the running for the GOP presidential nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry has some catching up to do. On Wednesday, Perry became the sixth candidate to sign an anti-abortion pledge from the Susan B. Anthony List that commits him to a set of radical anti-abortion measures if elected president. The Dallas Morning-News has the nuts and bolts:

The pledge has four parts:
* a promise only to pick federal judges who adhere to the strict "original meaning of the Constitution,"
* to "select only pro-life appointees" for attorney general and assorted posts at the National Institutes of Health, Justice Department and Department of Health & Human Services.
* to defund Planned Parenthood and any other organization that performs or funds abortions and to end all taxpayer funding of abortion, domestically or overseas and
* to sign into law the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," to ban abortion based on the premise that fetuses can feel pain.

The fetal pain measure, for the unfamiliar, is part of a trend at the state level. At least a dozen states have considered prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks, relying on some pretty suspect science. As my colleague Kate Sheppard reported in May, summarizing recent research on the subject, "there is no conclusive evidence that fetuses can feel pain at that point in gestation, nor are they considered viable." But the larger goal is procedural: to bait opponents into challenging the laws in court.

By signing the pledge, Perry joins a list that includes Reps. Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, and Thaddeus McCotter; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; and former Sen. Rick Santorum. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, has not signed the pledge—a position that's put him at odds with many social conservatives, who never really trusted him to begin with. (Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has also abstained, but that shouldn't come as much of a surprise given his current aversion to the GOP base.)

Bracing For the Great Mississippi Valley Earthquake

| Wed Aug. 24, 2011 9:41 AM EDT

With many DC residents still cowering nervously under our desks after yesterday's earthquake, Dave Weigel flags a rather regrettable tweet from Sen. John McCain from 2009. (Regrettable Tweets from John McCain is good Tumblr idea, come to think of it.) McCain has a habit of going on Twitter sprees, in which he rattles off a long list of earmarks that he considers to be prima facie ludicrous. Like this one:

The punchline is that this is a terrible waste of money because everyone knows Memphis doesn't even have earthquakes.

But actually, the punchline here is John McCain, who is blissfully ignorant of the fact that Memphis, Tennessee actually does sit on top of a major fault line, the New Madrid Seismic Zone. There haven't been any major earthquakes on the New Madrid fault since the winter of 1811–1812 (when there were four), but FEMA believes that a serious earthquake in Memphis "is likely to constitute the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States," due to the impact it would have on interstate commerce, agriculture, and property damage. It would displace about up to 7 million people and could cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. A FEMA-commissioned study, meanwhile, showed that the likelihood of a magnitude 6 or 7 earthquake occuring along the New Madrid fault in the next 50 years was 90 percent. There are also 15 nuclear power plants within the New Madrid Seismic Zone. If a major earthquake were to happen there, it would go "way beyond Katrina" in terms of devastation, as one senior Department of Defense official put it, according to Wired.

As it happens, there's a debate within the seismological community about just how much of a threat there is of an earthquake in the Midwest. A Northwestern University professor I spoke with in April believes that the fault may have shut off, in which case spending money on earthquake readiness would be a bad investment. What's at stake? Billions of dollars in long-term costs (shoring up all federal buildings, for instance) as well as harder-to-calculate economic costs to communities along the fault. Folks in Paducah, Kentucky say the threat of a major earthquake there has made it harder to lure new businesses. With so much hinging on the science, investing in research right now may actually be a very cost-effective approach.

The larger issue here is that McCain and plenty of other lawmakers have sought to make the case that earmarks are by definition wasteful, as part of their crusade against government spending. But earmarks have about the same degree of usefulness as any other form of non-earmarked funding. In reality, it's not the earmarks themselves that McCain should be concerned with; it's the process by which they're allocated.

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