Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. 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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Poll: Bachmann Peaked at Ames, Birthers Not Going Away

| Tue Aug. 23, 2011 11:55 AM EDT
Despite her Iowa roots, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is on pace for a third-place finish in the Hawkeye State.

Public Policy Polling is out with a new survey of Iowa Republicans that's good news for Texas Governor Rick Perry, bad news for Rep. Michele Bachmann, and just really depressing news for the rest of us. The main takeaway is that PPP sees Bachmann's support in the critical first-in-the-nation caucus state slipping precipitously since she won the Ames Straw Poll earlier this month. Bachmann's Ames victory came on the same day Perry entered the race, and since then, Perry seems to have picked up much of her support. The two are widely seen as competing for the same pot of socially conservative voters, but in a head-to-head contest between the two of them, Perry crushes Bachmann, 51 percent to 27 percent, with 22 percent undecided. From PPP's Tom Jensen:

It's clear that Bachmann has gotten virtually no momentum out of her victory in the Ames Straw Poll. She was in 3rd place when we polled Iowa in June and she's in third place now. Beyond that her favorability numbers in the state have taken a significant hit. In June she had a 53/16 breakdown. Since then her positive number has dropped 6 points from 53% to 47%, and her negative number has climbed 19 points from 16% to 35%.

Courtesy of Public Policy PollingCourtesy of Public Policy Polling

The news is just bad for supporters of fact-based reality. Although the number of admitted birthers plunged nationally following the death of Osama bin Laden and the production of President Barack Obama's long-form birth certificate, a majority of Iowa Republicans still aren't convinced that the Commander in Chief was born in the United States. Just 48 percent say he was, with 32 percent firmly in the other camp, and 20 percent still holding out for the long-long form birth certificate (or something).

The full diclaimer, as usual, is that it's still early. Very, very early. Perry is currently riding the wave that comes with a high-profile announcement tour, but as we've reported, there are cracks in his armor that are likely to be exploited. And unlike standard primary states, Iowa's caucuses aren't straight-up popularity contests; they're time-consuming affairs that rely heavily on organization. In other words: Don't count Bachmann out just yet.

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Allen West: Israeli PM Netanyahu is Western Civilization's Best Hope

| Mon Aug. 22, 2011 10:56 PM EDT
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) says Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is Western Civilization's last, best hope.

It's August and Congress is out of session, which means your elected representatives are probably back home meeting with constituents in Israel right now, on a junket paid for by an affiliate of AIPAC, the nation's largest pro-Israel lobbying group. The Jerusalem Post reported earlier this month that 81 members of Congress—a full 20 percent of the lower chamber—had plans to visit Israel this month, on two separate trips led by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). The summer sojourn has become a routine of sorts; Minnesota Rep. and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who believes America will be cursed if it fails to sufficiently support Israel, has taken regular trips to the country since being first elected in 2008.

Ostensibly the purpose of these trips is to see the sights, snag some photo-ops, and show Evangelical supporters back home that Congress is sufficiently gung-ho about Israel (because that was unclear). But a corollary of all of that is that it gives Republican congressmen who really, really don't like President Obama a chance to hang out with a head-of-state whom they actually support. It's part of a trend. You'll recall that Sarah Palin once said, during the Couric Sessions, that it would be flat-out un-American for the President to second-guess any decision by the Israeli government—even if it seemed to run counter to America's best interests. To wit, here's Florida Rep. Allen West, writing on Monday in a letter to his constituents:

For the second time in my life,  I am in Israel this week, but this is the first time I am visiting as a United States Member of Congress. I will have the opportunity, at this critical juncture, to meet with Israeli leadership and even visit with the representatives of the Palestinian Authority. My message is very simple; I stand with Israel, not with a backdoor unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state – particularly one which has joined in a reconciliation pact with Hamas.

In Israel, I will get the opportunity to meet with a true Leader, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. At a time when western civilization has no leading voice, I believe the only one that resonates, speaks Hebrew. And no, I am not afraid of going to Israel at this time. On the contrary, this is the best time to go to Israel!

Emphasis mine. The contrast is pretty clear here: West considers the President of the United States to be a "low-level socialist agitator"; he believes the Israeli Prime Minister is the last great hope of Western Civilization.

"Hate Group" Affiliates Take Millions in Government Pork

| Mon Aug. 22, 2011 12:01 PM EDT
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins

Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent has a good report this morning on how the state affiliates of the Family Research Council have quietly taken in nearly $6 million in government funding (state and federal) over the last five years. The FRC is a leading social conservative organization that's been labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center on account of its use of debunked and misleading arguments against gay rights (one FRC spokesman suggested it wouldn't be a bad idea if gays just left the country entirely). The organization and its satellites have hit Democrats hard for spending too much, but, as Birkey reports, a chunk of that spending has actually gone to the FRC's network.

For instance:

The Family Action Council of Tennessee received $10,000 from the state of Tennessee to host anti-pornography workshop in 2008. FACT supports cutting government spending. They also insinuate that the poor should pay more. "It seems to me that a major problem in Washington is that right at 50 percent of Americans no longer pay federal taxes," wrote the group's head David Fowler.

"Sexually oriented businesses often prey upon urban communities and those located along interstate routes and major state highways, especially where there are few zoning restrictions," the group said on the event invite. "Adult businesses are now pursuing their agenda through their own state association and have a lobbyist promoting their interests at the state Capitol. This is not an 'industry' your community can afford to ignore."

The hypocrisy angle strikes me as a bit off. The FRC and its network aren't calling for an end to government spending altogether—they're calling for an end to what they consider to be the wrong kind of government spending, which is anything that reeks of the nanny state. There are several reasons for that, but basically, they worry that government is in competition with the church and the family, and that government assistance programs have a perverse impact on Americans' morals. But by extension, funding that helps support "pro-family" organizations would actually be a pretty good thing in the FRC's book.

The larger issue is that state and federal agencies are dolling out cash to an organization that believes church-state watchdogs are "cultural terrorists" and that Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign, designed to combat gay teen suicides, is "disgusting." And unlike, say, the food stamp program, which wouldn't exist without a bureaucracy to manage it, holding seminars on the evils of pornography to already persuaded audiences is exactly what the Family Action Council of Tennessee would be doing, with or without that $10,000 government check.

For more, I'd suggest you consult anti-anti-smut activist and former Miami mayoral candidate Luther Campbell: 

Rick Perry vs. The Trial Lawyers

| Mon Aug. 22, 2011 10:00 AM EDT
The Torts and the Hair: Texas Governor Rick Perry has made tort reform a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

Politico's Alexander Burns reports today that trial lawyers are gearing up for a major fundraising effort against Texas Governor Rick Perry, should he win the GOP presidential nomination:

Among litigators, there is no presidential candidate who inspires the same level of hatred — and fear — as Perry, an avowed opponent of the plaintiffs’ bar who has presided over several rounds of tort reform as governor...

That's a potential financial boon to [Obama] who has unsettled trial lawyers with his own rhetorical gestures in the direction of tort reform. A general election pitting Barack Obama against Perry could turn otherwise apathetic trial lawyers into a phalanx of pro-Obama bundlers and super PAC donors.

"If this guy emerges, if he's a serious candidate, if he doesn't blow up in the next couple weeks, it's going to motivate many in the plaintiffs' bar to dig deeper to support President Obama," said Sean Coffey, a former securities litigator who ran for attorney general of New York last year. "That will end up driving a lot of money to the Democratic side."

So that's the horse-race element of it. The larger battle here, which my colleague Stephanie Mencimer literally wrote the book about, is that conservatives and their business interests have for decades attempted to demonize trial lawyers for multiple reasons, none of which really involve your best interests. Perry makes a tort reform a major part of his stump speech; it's one of the four steps he would take as president to turn the economy around, along with lower taxes, fewer regulations, and reduced spending. And, to his credit I suppose, he has made it a priority in Texas so at least he's consistent. But as Kevin Drum points out, Perry's crusade against frivolous lawsuits has really just made it harder for people with legitimate claims to file suit, without offering the return on investment (lower health care costs, primarily) it purports to deliver.

Here Are 6 Stories You Must Read About Rick Perry

A 500-yard-wide highway. An innocent man put to death. A modern-day apostle. Our favorite #longreads about the GOP's flavor-of-the-month.

| Sat Aug. 20, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced last week he would seek the GOP's presidential nomination.

Rick Perry's first week on the campaign trail was, it's pretty safe to say, an eventful one. Last Saturday, the Texas governor officially entered the GOP presidential race with a pledge to make "Washington, DC, as inconsequential in your life as I can." On Sunday, he alleged that the United States military does not respect President Obama. On Monday, he threatened to murder (or something) the Republican-appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve. On Wednesday, he blew the whistle on an international conspiracy by climatologists to secure more money for research grants. On Thursday, he disclosed that the earth was "pretty old" and that creationism should be taught in public schools.

Perry, Texas' governor since the last days of the Clinton administration, has taken the race by storm, soaring to the top of the polls in Iowa and throwing conservatives into a tizzy as to whether he's really cut out to lead the Republican party forward. So who is Rick Perry, anyway—and what has he done to Texas?

We combed the Internet to bring you our favorite deep dives on the GOP's new pony—and the people and events that made him. Enjoy:

"Trial by Fire," David Grann, The New Yorker: Cameron Todd Willingham was executed via lethal injection in 2004 for murdering his wife and three kids via arson. There was one serious problem: It now appears almost certain that Willingham was innocent. Perry, who presided over more executions than any governor in modern American history, declined to grant a stay to Willingham when presented with evidence that his case had been mishandled and key evidence was ignored. When the Texas Forensic Science Commission seemed on the verge of concluding that the fire might not have been arson after all (after taking the unprecedented step of re-examining the case), Perry promptly replaced three of its members. Grann painstakingly details the 12-year process by which Texas, under Perry's watch, killed an innocent man—and the effort he took to sweep it under the rug. The New Republic's Jonathan Chait calls this piece, "the single greatest piece of journalism I have ever read in my life." See also: "Innocence Lost," Pamela Colloff, Texas Monthly—in which a reporter succeeds in freeing a man who spent 18 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit.

"The NAFTA Superhighway," Chris Hayes, The Nation: "When completed, the highway will run from Mexico City to Toronto, slicing through the heartland like a dagger sunk into a heifer at the loins and pulled clean to the throat. It will be four football fields wide, an expansive gully of concrete, noise and exhaust, swelled with cars, trucks, trains and pipelines carrying water, wires and God knows what else. Through towns large and small it will run, plowing under family farms, subdevelopments, acres of wilderness."

At least, that's how Hayes' conspiracy theorists—which include the Montana Legislature and at least one member of Congress—saw it. Hayes cuts through the myths surrounding the Trans-Texas Corridor, one of Perry's most ambitious and controversial proposals in his decade as governor—and one that helped spawn a conservative insurrection in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.

"Bob Perry Needs a Hug," S.C. Gwynne, Texas Monthly: No one in America has given more money to Rick Perry over the last decade than Texas homebuilder and Swift Boat financier Bob Perry (no relation): $2.5 million. Perry the builder, whose business success is heavily dependent on cheap immigrant labor, is widely seen as a driving force behind the governor's relatively moderate approach to curbing undocumented immigration. Gov. Perry has been accused of being a corporatist and not an ideologue; his relationship with Bob Perry is a testament to that.

"Revisionaries," Mariah Blake, Washington Monthly: Texas public schools don't officially push creationism on students as Perry suggests, but it's not for lack of effort. Blake profiles one of Perry's most controversial appointments, his selection of a creationist dentist to chair the State Board of Education, tasked with setting the curriculum standards for classrooms across the state.

Don McLeroy is a balding, paunchy man with a thick broom-handle mustache who lives in a rambling two-story brick home in a suburb near Bryan, Texas. When he greeted me at the door one evening last October, he was clutching a thin paperback with the skeleton of a seahorse on its cover, a primer on natural selection penned by famed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr. We sat down at his dining table, which was piled high with three-ring binders, and his wife, Nancy, brought us ice water in cut-crystal glasses with matching coasters. Then McLeroy cracked the book open…

"Rick Perry's Army of God," Forrest Wilder, Texas Observer: Before he announced his run for president Rick Perry held a massive prayer and fasting festival at an NFL stadium in Houston. You may have heard. Wilder provides valuable background on Perry's allies on the religious right—specifically a radical new movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation.

On September 28, 2009, at 1:40 p.m., God's messengers visited Rick Perry. On this day, the Lord's messengers arrived in the form of two Texas pastors, Tom Schlueter of Arlington and Bob Long of San Marcos, who called on Perry in the governor's office inside the state Capitol. Schlueter and Long both oversee small congregations, but they are more than just pastors. They consider themselves modern-day apostles and prophets, blessed with the same gifts as Old Testament prophets or New Testament apostles. The pastors told Perry of God's grand plan for Texas. A chain of powerful prophecies had proclaimed that Texas was "The Prophet State," anointed by God to lead the United States into revival and Godly government. And the governor would have a special role.

"Right Place, Right Time," Paul Burka, Texas Monthly: This one's politics, plain and simple. Burka, one of Texas' most respected political analysts, explains what makes Perry tick, and makes the compelling case that the governor has been preparing for his presidential run for years.

Most people who follow Texas politics know by now the conventional wisdom about Perry: that he is an accidental governor who inherited the job when George W. Bush became president; that he is "Governor Goodhair" or "Governor 39 Percent" or some similar appellation of mild disrespect accompanied by a twist of humor; that he doesn’t really do anything well except win elections, which he has done with regularity. There is truth in the conventional wisdom, but there is also blindness. Perry has been so often viewed as a caricature that many Texans have failed to recognize his talent.

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