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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11 Patriotic Songs That Don't Suck

| Sat Jul. 2, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Happy Independence Day! (Last month it was Flag Day! Flag Day!) Whether you're roasting a whole pig as the Founders intended, or just throwing some veggies—or peaches—on the grill, no July 4 barbecue is complete without a corresponding playlist.

Alas, America's birthday has been held hostage for eons by the dull, repetitive compositions of John Philip Sousa. We'll give the man his due, but after years of hearing it over and over again, "Stars and Stripes Forever" has begun to feel as interminable as the name suggests. He also famously predicted that the arrival of recorded music would cause people to stop creating new music altogether, and that "the vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."

So we thought we'd try something new: We asked you on Facebook for your favorite patriotic tunes. They didn't have to be jingoistic—in fact, the best one aren't. Just something that gives you a little bit of a pride in place when you hear it. And you responded—about 250 times, actually.

Here are 11 of our favorites:

Pavement, "No More Kings": This adaptation of the Schoolhouse Rock classic tells the story of how a plucky band of patriots broke away from the cackling, purple-lipstick-wearing tyrant King George III—and did so with just four fingers on each hand.

Marvin Gaye, "Star Spangled Banner": How to take a frequently butchered, oft-criticized anthem that's set to an old drinking tune, and turn it into a classic: Step 1: Add Marvin Gaye. Step 2: There is no step 2. (Apologies to Jimi Hendrix.)

Bruce Springsteen, "4th of July, Asbury Park": With an assist from the late, great Clarence Clemons.

Lee Greenwood, "God Bless the USA": Via MoJo Facebook commenters Larry, Heather, and Brandon (who prefaces it with an "Ok, I admit..."). We won't judge, Brandon! One mitigating factor here is that Greenwood went on to write a nearly identical song called "God Bless Canada," which strikes us on some level as patriotic bigamy.

James Brown, "Living in America": Because like it or not, most of us are.

Titus Andronicus, "A More Perfect Union": This one mixes Abraham Lincoln quotes, Harriet Beecher Stowe verses, independent-league baseball references, and an homage to Bruce Springsteen. If it were any more American, it would have to be deep-fried.

Johnny Horton, "The Battle of New Orleans": In which a band of American misfits teamed up with a band of actual pirates (!!) and, apparently, alligators, to score an ultimately meaningless victory. We'll take it.

Woody Guthrie, "This Land is Your Land": Look. We know. Woody Guthrie was none too happy with what was going on in America when he wrote this song. But we're pretty damn proud to be a part of a country that produces such powerful and aspirational expressions of discontent—and more generally, produces badasses like Woody Guthrie—and, ahem, Mary Harris Jones.

Funkadelic, "One Nation Under a Groove": Gettin' down, just for the funk of it.

Steve Goodman, "City of New Orleans": Goodman looks visibly nervous during all of this, which only serves to make the song even more endearing. Trains! Morning! Working people! Rust belt scenery! America!

Ray Charles, "America the Beautiful": A good note to close on. One of the classics, performed by one of the greats.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

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Tim Pawlenty: I Wish I'd Shut Down My State Even Longer

| Fri Jul. 1, 2011 9:56 AM EDT

At midnight last night, Minnesota's government officially shut down, save for essential services, after the Republican legislature and Democratic Governor Mark Dayton failed to reach an agreement on how to close the state's $6.2-billion budget deficit (Republicans want more spending cuts; Dayton wants to raise taxes in some areas). So how did Minnesota end up with a $6.2 billion budget deficit? Two words: Tim Pawlenty.

As I explained yesterday, the GOP presidential candidate and former governor spent his eight years in St. Paul turning in balanced budgets by using various accounting tricks (deferred payments, declining to take into account inflation when calculating future expenses), and shifting resources (local property taxes skyrocketed in order to offset shrinking state revenues). It looked good on paper, provided you didn't look too hard. But now, with Minnesota's shutdown making headlines, Pawlenty is doing damage control. Last night, he held a brief press conference at the Minneapolis–St. Paul Airport to offer his thoughts on the shutdown. The kicker: He thinks it's a good thing.

Via St. Paul's KSTP:

Former Governor and Presidential Candidate Tim Pawlenty says he wishes the brief shutdown he presided over in 2005 lasted longer.

He explains that had the shutdown continued the state might have been better off fiscally.

While Pawlenty refused to directly address the tens of thousands of state workers facing unemployment, he did suggest they should adopt longer term Republican goals based on fiscal responsibility.

This misses one key thing, which is that the actual shutdown itself has an economic impact. As Minnesota Public Radio reports, the shutdown could cost about $12 million per week in lost tourism revenue, $10 million in lost productivity, $2.3 million in lost lottery revenue, and a few million dollars more in lost productivity because workers were drawing up contingency plans for the shutdown rather than doing actual work. Beyond that, one direct consequence of laying off tens of thousands of state workers is that those people become unemployed, placing an even greater strain on the economy. Shutdowns are great if you're primarily concerned with slowly shrinking the size of government with no larger concern for the state's economic health—but that's about it.

Rick Perry's Christians-Only Prayerfest

| Thu Jun. 30, 2011 1:43 PM EDT

In early August, Texas Republican governor and possible presidential candidate Rick Perry will host a prayer summit at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The event, dubbed "The Response" and funded by the American Family Association (which was labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center), is designed to combat the economic, political, and spiritual crises facing the United States by returning the nation to its Biblical roots. The Response's website proclaims, "There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees." And in a video message Perry sent out this week, he noted, "I'm inviting you to join your fellow Americans for a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our nation." Perhaps Perry should have clarified what sort of "fellow Americans" he meant, for at this event only Christians will be allowed to share the podium with Perry.

Since the event was first announced in early June, organizers have suggested that it would be a great opportunity to convert non-Christians. Now, they've gone even further: According to an email blasted out by The Response, only Christians will be permitted to speak at the non-denominational event. If representatives of other faiths (particularly Muslims) were to be included, the email noted, such inclusion would promote "idolatry." In a message sent out under The Response's official letterhead, Allan Parker, one of Perry's organizers, described the event in less-than-ecumenical terms:

This is an explicitly Christian event because we are going to be praying to the one true God through His son, Jesus Christ. It would be idolatry of the worst sort for Christians to gather and invite false gods like Allah and Buddha and their false prophets to be with us at that time. Because we have religious liberty in this country, they are free to have events and pray to Buddha and Allah on their own. But this is time of prayer to the One True God through His son, Jesus Christ, who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

With this prayerfest, Perry is associating himself with rather radical folks. The American Family Association's issues director, for instance, has said that gays are "Nazis" and that Muslims should be converted to Christianity. Another organizer, Doug Stringer, has said that 9/11 was God's punishment for the nation's creeping secularism. And then there's Jay Swallow, whose endorsement is trumpeted on The Response's website, and who runs "A Christian Military Training Camp for the purpose of dealing with the occult and territorial enemy strong holds in America" (his description). Consequently, it's not much of a mystery why only one of the nation's other 49 governors has so far accepted Perry's invitation to attend the event (Perry invited all of them)—arch-conservative Sam Brownback of Kansas.

The US Senate Gets Gold Rush Fever

| Thu Jun. 30, 2011 9:38 AM EDT

Good news, gold bugs. In an effort to promote hard money as an alternative to paper dollars, three tea party senators—Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.)—introduced legislation this week to exempt gold and silver coins from taxation. Via Peter Kasperowicz:

"In order to rebuild strength and confidence in our economy, we need both the fiscal discipline to cut wasteful spending and the monetary discipline to restrain further destructive monetizing of our debt," [Lee] said. "This legislation would encourage wider adoption of sound money measures, and that's a step in the right direction."

In the same statement, Lee said the dollar has lost 98 percent of its value since 1913. Sen. Paul said it would show that "states are serious about an alternative to a weakening dollar."

The bill is designed to make it easier for state governments to transition to the use of so-called "sound-money" currency. As I reported back in March, more than a dozen states have introduced proposals to, in various ways, promote the use of alternative currencies in official transactions. The argument for this is a constitutional one—supporters say they're simply trying to bring their states in line with Article 1 Section 10 of the Constitution, which stipulates that gold and silver coins be legal tender. 

There are also economic concerns. As tends to be the case with collectors of precious metals, supporters believe that the nation's finances are in even worse shape than we've been led to believe, and that the only way out of a Zimbabwe-style (or Weimar-style—take your pick) inflationary collapse is a return to the hard stuff. "It's kind of like if you think back to the Katrina catastrophe, and you read about all the proposals that were made to strengthen and secure the levies that were just never done," as one gold booster told me at the time. Utah—which, in the grips of a tea party fervor, replaced long-time conservative stalwart Robert Bennett with Lee last summer—became the first state to actually pass a pro-gold bill back in March. That law asserts the right of the state to use gold and silver as legal tender and sets up a committee to study the implementation.

But states that are looking to go back to gold face a few obstacles—namely, that there's no infrastructure to actually handle an infusion of gold currency. Carrying around a pouch of gold coins would be a burden (and vaguely Medieval), and so boosters tend to agree that for it really to take off, you'd need a centralized storage facility and then a debit-card-like transaction system, neither of which currently exist. And then there's the cost: gold and silver coins from the US Mint are the only coins that could be used as legal tender, and there's a significant markup on those in addition to the taxes. The Lee-Demint-Paul bill is attempting to tackle just one piece of the problem by making it less cost-prohibitive.

So, does the bill stand any chance of passing? It's a long shot. But it doesn't hurt that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is himself an unabashed cheerleader for the gold lobby.

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