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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Here's Another High School Football Team Promoting the "Trail of Tears"

| Thu Nov. 21, 2013 7:00 AM EST

On Friday, the Dyersburg Trojans beat the visiting Jackson Northside Indians 34-14 to advance in the Tennessee high school football playoffs. But the game wasn't without controversy: A Facebook page managed by the Dyersburg coaching staff proudly highlighted a half-dozen photos of Dyersburg students holding up a giant "Trail of Tears" banner to taunt the visiting Jackson Northside team.

Dyersburg principal Jon Frye said he was not aware of the photos on the football team's Facebook page but would ask moderators to take them down. "I will be leaving here and going to the fieldhouse as soon as you and I are done," he told Mother Jones on Wednesday. Sure enough, the photos have since been removed, but here's a screenshot:

Dyersburg Trojans/Facebook

Frye, who did not attend the playoff game, said he became aware of the signs on Friday and met with students on Monday and hopes this will be the last of it. "Largely I tried to draw a parallel between persecuted population groups," he said. "You would not take African Americans and try to draw a parallel to an event in which a lot of African American people had died."

This is the second recent incident involving fans of a high school football team using "Trail of Tears" signs to taunt "Indian" opponents. That same Friday night, the principal of McAdory High School in McAlla, Alabama, was forced to apologize after his team took the field for their second-round playoff game against the Pinson Valley Indians by running through a paper sign reading "Hey Indians, get ready to leave in a trail of tears."

The incidents come amid a renewed push by activists and lawmakers to persuade the Washington NFL franchise to change its name and logo to something less racially insensitive. On November 5, DC's city council approved a resolution asking the team to change its name. Although supporters of such names say the names are intended to honor American Indian heritage, the lesson of Dyersburg and Jackson Northside may be just the opposite.

"I haven't given that one a ton of thought, I know, but I guess you could make the logical connection if they weren't named Indians then you couldn't have this particular situation," Frye said of the school's opponent. "I suppose there's some truth to that."

Want to Piss Off the White House? Talk About Climate Change

| Thu Nov. 14, 2013 11:54 AM EST

Politico's Glenn Thrush has a revealing new piece on the pressures of being in President Obama's cabinet—a supposedly fun thing most of its members will never do again. There a lot of nuggets in there, but one in particular stood out: the White House's private outrage at former Secretary of Energy Steve Chu's impromptu decision to talk about climate change while visiting an island nation uniquely threatened by it. On a trip to Trinidad and Tobago with the president, a staffer persuaded press secretary Robert Gibbs to let Chu answer a few questions:

Gibbs reluctantly assented. Then Chu took the podium to tell the tiny island nation that it might soon, sorry to say, be underwater—which not only insulted the good people of Trinidad and Tobago but also raised the climate issue at a time when the White House wanted the economy, and the economy only, on the front burner. "I think the Caribbean countries face rising oceans, and they face increase in the severity of hurricanes," Chu said. "This is something that is very, very scary to all of us…The island states…some of them will disappear."

Earnest slunk backstage. "OK, we'll never do that again," he said as Gibbs glared. A phone rang. It was White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel calling Messina to snarl, "If you don't kill [Chu], I'm going to."

Emanuel didn't kill Chu, although that would have made for a more interesting story.

A couple things stand out here. Trinidad and Tobago is seriously threatened by climate change, and given the efforts of similarly situated island nations—the Maldives, Tuvalu—to call attention to the crisis, it's hardly an insult to use the occasion of a trip to the country to talk about it. (Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago's capital, is 10 feet above sea level.) But this underscores just how narrow the White House's thinking was at that time. Does anyone actually remember Steven Chu speaking out about sea level rises in Trinidad and Tobago? Did it really distract from the president's economic message? Were there mass protests in the streets of Port of Spain? Did it delay pending legislation or result in any electoral setbacks? The reality is that talking about climate change probably isn't going to be a catastrophe, no matter how awkward it might seem at the time—but not talking about climate change most definitely will.

Marco Rubio Raising Money for Group That Tries to Turn Gay People Straight

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 5:03 PM EST

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will speak at a fundraising dinner this week honoring Mat Staver, an ardent anti-gay activist who has defended Malawi's ban on homosexuality. Staver is suing New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie for signing a law banning gay-to-straight conversion therapy, and has said that teaching gay rights in schools is tantamount to "sexual assault."

Rubio, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, will deliver the keynote address at the annual fundraiser for the Florida Family Policy Council, a prominent social conservative organization that promotes so-called "conversion therapy" to help LGBT individuals become straight. Conversion therapy has been condemned as a form of abuse by psychologists. It is banned outright in a handful of states beyond New Jersey, including California. The American Psychiatric Association, which does not endorse conversion therapy, says the practice is at best ineffective and at worst can "reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

According to an invitation to the November 16 event, first reported by the progressive watchdog site Right Wing Watch, the dinner will honor Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law and founder of the Liberty Counsel, which provides legal support to social conservative organizations. Staver's group filed a lawsuit against Christie last week alleging that New Jersey's new ban on gay conversion therapy prevented a couple from properly treating their son. Staver has a history of making incendiary claims about gays. In June, he claimed that the passage of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBT employees and applicants, would "result in significant damage and even death of some individuals." After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last summer, Staver suggested the decision would bring the nation closer to "the realm of rebellion."

John Stemberger, the Florida Family Policy Council's president, is also an anti-gay activist. He is chairman of Trail Life, the "moral alternative" to the Boy Scouts of America, which recently lifted its ban on gay Scouts. Trail Life won't accept openly gay boys as members, but offers counseling services to kids who suffer from "gender confusion."

"We're not going to tolerate somebody who's, you know, here and queer, loud and proud, all of that nonsense," Stemberger told social-conservative radio host Janet Mefferd. Stemberger, a lawyer, also triggered a minor international incident in 1999, when he sued Dollar rental car for negligence for renting a vehicle to an Irish tourist who got in an accident with his client. "Anyone who has studied Ireland knows it's just a fact: To the Irish, drinking and driving is not a big deal," he said at the time. The former mayor of Dublin told the Irish Times that Stemberger's lawsuit was "racist and absurd."

Rubio's office did not respond to a request for comment.

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