Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


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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Sorry, Obama. The Founding Fathers Loved Peas

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 10:31 AM EDT

On Wednesday, after the New York Times proposed adding peas to guacamole (what's next, mayonnaise?), President Barack Obama announced that the proper way to make guacamole is with avocado, onions, garlic, and hot pepper. It wasn't the first time the leader of the free world had disparaged peas. In 2011, when Congress stalled on raising the debt ceiling, he announced that it was time for all parties involved to "eat our peas"—swallow the tough pill, if you will.

But Obama's anti-pea polemic, published just days before the Fourth of July, puts him at odds with an important group of Americans—the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers loved peas.

Thomas Jefferson's favorite vegetable, according to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, was the English pea. He cultivated 19 different kinds of peas in the Monticello vegetable garden, including 15 kinds of English peas. Among them were Marrowfat, Hotspur, Blue Prussian, and Early Frame. (Jefferson even spoke with Mother Jones about his peas in February.) Letters to his daughter, Mary, often made reference to the status of the peas. Here he is discussing peas in a letter to George Washington:

Peas weren't just sustenance for Jefferson. They were a way of life; every year he would hold a contest with his neighbor to see whose peas would sprout first. Per the Monticello website:

Though Jefferson's mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage for the contest, it seems that the contest was almost always won by a neighbor named George Divers.

As Jefferson's grandson recalled: "A wealthy neighbor [Divers], without children, and fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. Mr. Jefferson, on one occasion had them first, and when his family reminded him that it was his right to invite the company, he replied, 'No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend to think that he never fails.'"

Divers, that clever knave! There's even a children's book, First Peas to the Table, inspired by Jefferson's fruitless obsession with winning at peas.

Jefferson's friends in government got in on the action too. At his prodding, George Washington attempted to plant English peas at Mount Vernon, with  mixed results. But Washington loved peas so much that when a bunch Tories attempted to kill him, they did so by poisoning a dish of his favorite food—peas. Wise to the plot, a 13-year-old girl fed them to his chickens first as a precautionary measure. (Or at least, that's the legend. It's probably apocryphal.)

The point is, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington loved peas. If avocados had even been around when they were president, they would have made pea guacamole. And they would have loved that, too. Pea hold these shoots to be self-evident.

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Wow, That's a Yooge Crowd to See Bernie Sanders

| Thu Jul. 2, 2015 8:29 AM EDT

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a "political revolution" at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin, on Wednesday night, and just a few people showed up:


Sanders' campaign estimated the crowd at about 10,000 people, the largest rally by any candidate during the 2016 campaign. Granted, it's not even 2016 yet, but Sanders has continued to draw massive crowds everywhere he has gone (5,000 people in Denver; 300 people in an Iowa town of 240). It's not necessarily a barometer for public support—Hillary Clinton still holds a comfortable lead in national polls—but it does show that his popularity stems from something much deeper than just good name recognition.

Jeb Bush Made Millions But Gave Little to Charity

| Tue Jun. 30, 2015 6:45 PM EDT

Jeb Bush released 33 years of tax returns on Tuesday evening. So how much did he give to charity over the years?

Not that much. Between 2003 and 2013, Bush gave 1.5 percent of his income to charity, according to the lists of charitable deductions in the tax returns. That's about half the national average of 3 percent, according to Charity Navigator.

In a letter posted on his website, Bush says he has given $739,000 to charity between 2007 and 2014, which indicates that he increased his annual rate of giving substantially last year. (His 2014 tax return will be released in the fall, according to his campaign.) "Since I left the governor's office I have tried to give back—and even though all of us strive to do more—I'm proud of what Columba and I have contributed," he wrote.

Bush's charitable donations as a percentage of his income is substantially less than the 13.8 percent given by Mitt Romney in the year before he launched his last presidential campaign. Bill and Hillary Clinton gave away about $10 million in the years leading up to the 2008 election, with much of that money going to the family's foundation. That was about 10 percent of their income. The Obamas gave 15 percent of their income to charity in 2014. (The Bidens' charitable giving was far lower: 2 percent.)

Supreme Court Justice Calls Death Penalty Drug "Equiva­lent of Being Burned at the Stake"

| Mon Jun. 29, 2015 9:45 AM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld the use of the drug midazolam for lethal injections in a 5–4 decision that pitted the five conservative justices against the four liberal ones. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote her own dissent, argued that the use of the drug, which prolongs the execution process and sometimes doesn't work at all, was in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment." Then she went a step further, comparing the drug to a more notorious form of punishment—the burning of heretics at the stake:

[T]he Court today turns aside petitioners’ plea that they at least be allowed a stay of execution while they seek to prove midazolam’s inadequacy. The Court achieves this result in two ways: first, by deferring to the District Court’s decision to credit the scientifically unsup­ported and implausible testimony of a single expert wit­ness; and second, by faulting petitioners for failing to satisfy the wholly novel requirement of proving the avail­ability of an alternative means for their own executions. On both counts the Court errs. As a result, it leaves peti­tioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equiva­lent of being burned at the stake.

Later in her dissent, Sotomayor added a few more comparisons for good measure. "Under the Court's new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake."

Justice Stephen Breyer, in a separate dissent, went a step further, arguing that the death penalty itself might be unconstitutional.

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