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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What Was the President Smoking?

| Thu Feb. 10, 2011 6:00 AM EST

On Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama announced that her husband has been cigarette-free for a year. This is great news for President Obama's life expectancy. But is it good for his legacy?

Obama was hardly the first occupant of the Oval Office to light one up every now and then. The overwhelming majority of American presidents have consumed tobacco in some form or another, and a few of them have even dabbled in other, more ilicit substances. So is there a correlation between, say, walking around with a wad of chewing tobacco in your cheeks and totally tanking as president? What about swearing off substances all together? Here's a crude comparison of our 10 greatest presidents and our 10 worst, based on C-Span's 2009 survey of historians. Erudite analysis and methodology below the jump:

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Rick Perry Runs For President, From Budget

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 9:00 AM EST

At this time last year, Arizona was facing a catastrophic budget crisis, the byproduct of building an entire economy on a real estate bubble that finally burst. It was a pretty daunting challenge, and so legislators chose to take their minds off of things by inventing new problems, and then solving those instead. As Ken Silverstein noted in Harper's:

Lawmakers have turned racial profiling into official policy...Another new law bans the funding of any ethnic-studies programs in the public schools, while a third prohibits "intentionally or knowingly creating a human-animal hybrid." Lawmakers declared February 8 the "Boy Scout Holiday," took time out to discount fishing-license fees for Eagle Scouts, and approved a constitutional right to hunt.

Mischief managed. Now, a similar situation is playing out in Texas. The Lone Star State faces a $25 billion budget deficit in 2010, so naturally, Gov. Rick Perry has put the legislature to work on a package of entirely unrelated emergency items. Politico says this means Perry's running for president, in which case his agenda is great fodder for potential primary voters. It's less great, however, for women, immigrants, and poor people. Here's a breakdown:

The Week in Sharia: How the West Was Lost

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 7:00 PM EST

Image: Wikimedia CommonsImage: Wikimedia CommonsAnd what a week it was:

  • Arkansas has fallen. A bill introduced late last month by state senator Cecile Bledsoe to ban the use of foreign or religious law has apparently stalled in the legislature. Bledsoe told Arkansas News that her bill isn't meant to target Islamic law, but rather all foreign law. This is a pretty standard defense and sounds very innocuous, so it's worth explaining why it's false: Bledsoe didn't write the bill from scratch; as Little Rock's KUAR reported, she had help from a group called the American Public Policy Alliance, an organization with a stated mission to "protect American citizens' constitutional rights against the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Shariah Law." (Here's Bledsoe's bill, and for comparison, here's the APPA's sample legislation).

    As Oklahoma's famous case demonstrates, you can't just explicitly single out a particular kind of religious law, and so the Public Policy Alliance doesn't. But the only threat they talk about on their website is Islamic law. Meanwhile, David Yerushalmi, the New York City attorney who APPA hired to draft the sample language, is the head of an organization that proposes to ban Muslims from entering the United States, deport all Muslim non-citizens, and make it a felony to promote Islam. In other words, this is absolutely about Sharia. Just so we're clear. (Neither Bledsoe nor the APPA has responded to multiple requests for comment).

  • On that note, South Dakota legislators are weighing their own similarly vague constitutional amendment to ban judges from considering "the law of any foreign nation, or any foreign religious or moral code." Because this is South Dakota, two of the bill's five sponsors also co-sponsored legislation this week to make gun ownership mandatory for every adult.
  • A 63-year-old Vietnam vet was arrested last weekend after threatening to blow up a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan. Roger Stockham, 63, has been charged with threatening to commit an act of terrorism, and possessing contraband fireworks. That's where they get you.
  • The Onion reports that terrorists are now deploying "patriotic, peaceful, decoy Muslims" to throw us off their scent—which, come to think of it, is pretty what Washington Times columnist Frank Gaffney has been saying all along.
  • And finally, Glenn Beck examined the evidence and reported what the media simply refuses to acknowledge: Bill Ayers and the Muslim Brotherhood are in league. Not to nitpick, but how can the Mediterranean simultaneously be "on fire" and in the middle of a "snowball." Shouldn't the latter metaphor extinguish the former? Or has the Muslim Brotherhood rediscovered the lost secret formula for Greek fire?

 

David Stockman and the New Conservative "Religion"

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 9:00 AM EST

Photo Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryPhoto Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryWhen conservative politicians want to take a rain check on criticizing a member of their own party, they like to invoke Reagan's 11th Commandment: "Thall shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican."

This is, of course, frequently ignored. But it's not the only commandment that's subject to selective enforcement—that whole bit about "false idols," for instance. For the better part of three decades, conservative policy-makers have revered a president who never really existed: a tax-cutting, deficit-fighting, savior who starved the beast of big government. Today's budget hawks alternatively cite Reagan as evidence that deficits don't matter, and then again as evidence that they do.

But don't take it from me; take it from the architect of the Reagan tax cuts himself: former budget director David Stockman (top, left). "[T]he simplistic and reckless idea that the way to stimulate the economy is to cut taxes anytime, anywhere, for any reason, became embedded [in the GOP]," Stockman told MoJo's David Corn. "It has become a religion, it has become a catechism. It's become a mindless incantation."

So where did Republicans go wrong—and how can they make things right? Stockman's prescription for fixing the economy might come as a bit of a shock, not the least of all to Congressional Republicans. Check out David's interview with Stockman from our March/April issue.

And while you're at it, here's a bonus long-read for your lunch break: Bill Greider's 1981 portrait of the budget director as a young man, in The Atlantic. I was going to describe it as a "fascinating look at the work of a budget director," and realized that makes it sound incredibly boring, which it's not; really, what's remarkable is Stockman's candor even then. As he told Greider, "None of us really understands what's going on with all these numbers."

West Virginia Legislator Hatches Plan to Secede

| Tue Feb. 1, 2011 6:00 AM EST

First Tunisia, then Egypt, now...West Virginia? Well, no, not exactly. But delegate Larry Kump has had it up to here with his state's government. "I take pride in being a Mountaineer," says the freshman legislator—but he'd rather break his beloved state apart than see it suffer on as an economic backwater.

"Our per capita income in West Virginia is 47th in the United States; it's one of the few things we're not 50th in," Kump says. "We've lost 10,000 manufacturing jobs over the past three years. Gross Domestic Product is 49th in the nation."

"One of my favorite sayings here in West Virginia is 'Thank God for Mississippi,' because if it wasn't for Mississippi, we'd be fiftieth in everything."

He adds, "I'd prefer West Virginians stay together and just get their act together—but if they don't, I think it's a good idea to go elsewhere."

Elsewhere, in this case, means moving back in with the ex. Last week, Kump, a self-identified "libertarian grassroots populist" with tea party ties, introduced a bill in the state legislature calling for a non-binding referendum on secession. Specifically, Kump suggests that the three counties of the state's eastern panhandle break away from the mother ship and become a part of Virginia (as they were prior to 1863). His reason is simple: Kump believes the state government has created an economic climate that's holding its citizens back. West Virginia's almost heaven, in other words, but it's an awful big "almost."

"One of my favorite sayings here in West Virginia is 'Thank God for Mississippi,'* because if it wasn't for Mississippi, we'd be fiftieth in everything," says Kump (who clearly hasn't seen this map). "All you need to do is cross the border in any of the surrounding states and they're all doing much better than we are."

Kump's hardly the first person to contemplate leaving West Virginia, but his grievances are noteworthy in part because of what inspired him: Unleashing Capitalism, a 2007 pro-business manifesto edited by West Virginia University economist Russell Sobel. The book, supported by funding from the energy conglomerate Koch Industries, has become a must-read for the state's reform-minded conservatives, who tout it as a blueprint for economic growth. The state's GOP chairman called the book "our party platform" when it was first released; it's spawned a sequel (about South Carolina), and been honored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a Washington-based think tank backed by Exxon-Mobil.

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