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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The Illegal Vodka Pipeline You Never Knew Existed

| Fri Sep. 13, 2013 8:07 AM PDT

On Monday, a pipeline transporting molasses from a storage tank to a ship burst, spilling 233,000 gallons of sugary syrup into Honolulu Harbor. The disaster has devastated marine life and sent local agencies scrambling to clean up. But there was another obvious takeaway: Really, molasses moves in pipelines?

Yes, and it's not alone.

 

Molasses

BW Folsom /Shutterstock

Length: Unknown

Where: Honolulu

Used by: Shipping company Matson Navigation

Status: Still active.

 

Vodka

kaband/Shutterstock

Length: .3 miles

Where:  Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan

Used by: Smugglers

Status: Shut down by Kyrgyz customs officials in August.

 

Vodka

Denys Prykhodov/Shutterstock; Aaron Amat/Shutterstock

Length: 1 mile

Where: Russia to Estonia

Used by: Smugglers

Status: Shut down by customs officials in 2008.

 

Moonshine

Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Length: 2 miles

Where: Belarus to Lithuania

Used by: Smugglers

Status: Shut down by customs officials in 2004.

 

Fried chicken

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Length: 650 feet

Where: Egypt to Gaza City

Used by: Smugglers, charging $27 for a 12-piece bucket of KFC.

Status: Still open. Maybe.

(Ed: This is more of a pipeline in a metaphorical sense, but it does pass through a tunnel.)

 

Beer

Darren J. Bradley/Shutterstock; Valentyn Volkov/Shutterstock

Length: 3.1 miles

Where: Gelensekirchen, Germany

Used by: Veltins Arena, home of the soccer club Schalke 04

Status: Still active.

 

Whiskey

Tim Stirling/Shutterstock

Length: Unknown

Where: Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Used by: Canadian Club founder Hiram Walker, to transport mash from his distiller to his farm.

Status: No longer active.

 

Orange juice

Sfocato/Shutterstock

Length: 1.2 miles

Where: Brazil

Used by: Cutrale, a Coca Cola subsidiary, to transfer fresh-squeezed juice from storage silos to pasteurization facility.

Status: Still open.

 

Grain

David Rose/Shutterstock

Length: TBD

Where: Montana to Minneapolis; Portland; or Lewiston, Idaho

Used by: Proposed by Montana legislature in the 1970s in response to rising freight transportation costs.

Status: Never built.

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Sports Illustrated Exclusive: College Students Smoke Pot

| Thu Sep. 12, 2013 9:01 AM PDT
Have you ever seen the spread offense? I mean really seen the spread offense?

On Thursday, Sports Illustrated published the latest in its five-part investigation into the Oklahoma State University football program, whose rise in the national rankings has tracked closely—the story alleges—with a culture of academic cheating and allegations of cash payments to athletes. (Paying players is forbidden by the NCAA, the sport's governing body, even though many of the players who allegedly received cash were broke and incapable of holding down a paying job because they spend most of their free time providing unpaid labor for a multi-billion dollar cartel.)

The report also uncovered a disturbing trend at Oklahoma State: some college students smoke pot:

As the Cowboys have risen from Big 12 cellar-dweller to one of the nation's elite teams, widespread marijuana use by players and even some drug dealing has gone largely unexamined, unchecked and untreated.

"Drugs were everywhere," says Donnell Williams, a linebacker on the 2006 team who says he didn't use drugs but observed other players who did. Other players echoed that, saying it was common for some players to smoke weed before games. "[Against] teams we knew we were going to roll, a couple of guys would get high," says Calvin Mickens, a cornerback from 2005 to '07. "Some of the guys [it] didn't matter what game it was, they were going to get high." In the weeks leading up to the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, running back Herschel Sims says that so many of his teammates were smoking marijuana regularly that if the school had suspended those who had the drug in their system, "we probably would have lost about 15-20 people who actually played." (According to the school, 18 of the team's more than 100 players were randomly tested by the NCAA before the game; one tested positive and was suspended.)

In other words, college student-athletes at Oklahoma State are a lot like unathletic college students at Oklahoma State, except that they're forced to undergo drug tests on a regular basis and have their recreational pursuits scrutinized. The fact that widespread marijuana use seems to have such little effect on the football team's performance would seem like an angle worth pursuing, given the story's premise that marijuana use is a malignant problem facing the Cowboys program. But that goes unexplored. Nor is there any attempt to explain why, exactly, recreational marijuana use is a problem worthy of lengthy investigation from a major national magazine. And it's not the first time either.

Previously in "OMG college athletes smoke pot": ESPN's 2012 examination of the "cloud of pot busts" that threaten to tarnish the sport's image.

College football players smoking marijuana is nothing new. Coaches and administrators have been battling the problem and disciplining players who do so for decades. Still, "I believe it's becoming more and more frequent on campuses," says Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon. One Football Bowl Subdivision coach says that athletes of today seem to treat marijuana as players from previous generations treated alcohol and that many of his players prefer smoking pot to drinking because weed leaves no hangover.

NCAA statistics show a bump in the number of stoned athletes.

Back in the world of peer-reviewed studies and public polling, marijuana is increasingly accepted and increasingly legal. And unlike, say, football, no one who uses it is going to die as a result. You'd never know it from reading the sports pages.

Ted Cruz: "We Need 100 More Like Jesse Helms"

| Wed Sep. 11, 2013 2:41 PM PDT
Former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.)

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz started off his Wednesday speech on foreign policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation with a confession: His first political contribution was a $10 contribution to the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), when he was 10. Then he followed it up with a plea. "We need 100 more like Jesse Helms," he said.

That Cruz would praise Helms while delivering Heritage's annual Helms Lecture is hardly unusual. And the two do share an extreme skepticism of the international community—Helms as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Cruz as Texas' first solicitor general. But Helms, who passed away in 2008, was an emblem for more than just conservatism. At a time when Republicans—including Cruz—are emphasizing the need to broaden the party's base, the first-term lawmaker and rumored presidential candidates is embracing one of the upper chamber's most notorious bigots.

Helms is perhaps best known for his 1990 "Hands" ad, which helped push him past his Democratic challenger, African-American Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt. But Helms' proud bigotry cut much deeper, and with devastating consequences for public policy. Helms believed gays were "weak, morally sick wretches" and argued that "there is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy"—motivating factors behind his push to block funding for research into HIV at a time when the epidemic was killing tens of thousands of people in the United States alone. He described AIDS education as "so obscene, so revolting, I may throw up." Jesse Helms was a bad person in a uniquely terrible way that increased pain and suffering for countless individuals. He even opposed appointing lesbians to high-ranking government offices. (Cruz, for his part, criticized a 2012 GOP primary opponent for attending a gay pride parade.)

Helms' racism was unmatched on Capitol Hill. He got his political start by bashing interracial marriage and accusing the spouse of a political opponent of dancing with a black man. As a senator, he blasted the Civil Rights Act as "the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress" and dismissed the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill as "the University of Negroes and Communists." In 1983, he filibustered the 1983 effort to create a Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. The infamous "Hands" ad almost felt gratuitous.

And then there's this: Shortly after Carol Moseley-Braun became only the second African-American since Reconstruction to be elected to the Senate in 1993, she got an elevator with Helms and Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. Helms began singing the opening lines of "Dixie," and then he turned to Hatch: "I'm going to make her cry," Helms said. "I'm going to sing 'Dixie' until she cries."

Your Move, Bloomberg: NRA Wins Big in Colorado Recalls

| Wed Sep. 11, 2013 6:58 AM PDT

Gun control advocates are officially on notice. On Tuesday, fueled by backlash over a sweeping gun control package that was signed into law last spring, voters in two Colorado districts voted to recall two Democratic state senators, John Morse and Angela Giron, and replace them with anti-gun-control Republicans. Morse and Giron had both supported the state's new gun safety package, which required background checks for private sales, capped magazine capacity at 15 rounds, and increased fees for gun owners. In the wake of mass shootings at Aurora and Sandy Hook, the legislation was hailed as an unprecedented victory in a notoriously pro-gun state; Tuesday's result—the first successful recall in state history—can't be viewed as anything less than a serious setback for that effort and puts even more of a premium on next fall's elections: Democrats now hold just a one-vote majority in the upper chamber.

After two other recall efforts failed to collect enough signatures, local gun rights activists targeted Giron and Morse, the senate president, despite the initial skepticism of the state's largest gun rights group. Once the recall campaign became a reality, though, the race was defined by the flood of outside money that poured into the state. The NRA, which backed the recalls from the beginning, pushed at least $362,000 toward defeating Morse and Giron, while the Koch Brothers-backed Americans For Prosperity launched a get-out-the-vote-effort. On the other side, that was nearly matched by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pledged to spend $12 million in support of pro-gun-control politicians through his organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Monday's recalls are a blunt reminder of the power still wielded by the NRA and grassroots anti-gun-control activists. But it would be a mistake to view it solely as a referendum on gun control. Recall elections are weird—they have lower turnout; different voting demographics; and ask voters to answer a different question than a regular election does. For gun-control advocates going forward, the biggest fear isn't that background checks and maximum magazine capacities are electoral non-starters. (It certainly hasn't hurt Barack Obama in Colorado.) It's that the spigots will turn off. As Giron told the New Republic's Alec MacGillis, "For Mayors Against Illegal Guns, if they lose even one of these seats, they might as well fold it up." We'll see if Bloomberg et al. stay  on course.

Fox News Discusses Possibility That Syria War Fulfills Biblical Prophecy

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 11:15 AM PDT

End times buffs have taken a special interest in the possibility of US military strikes in Syria. As I reported last week, popular evangelists and writers like Joel Rosenberg have spent much of the last five years talking up the possibility of a conflict that might fit the one outlined by Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament, in which Damascus is reduced to rubble. On Saturday, Rosenberg spoke about the Isaiah prophecy in Topeka, Kansas, at the invitation of Republican governor Sam Brownback. On Monday, he appeared on Fox News to elaborate on his views.

Rosenberg wasn't ready to definitively say that an American war in Syria—which is looking less and less likely by the day—would necessarily match the description of the Old Testament. But it was definitely a possibility. "It's impossible for us to know that yet, and I think it's wrong for people who teach Bible prophecy to try to guess, in a sense, to try to say for certain that it's going to happen now," he told host Neil Cavuto. "But you have seven million Syrians are already on the run—two million have left the country; five million are internally displaced. The Jeremiah: 49 prophecy says that people will flee, but there'll still be people in Damascus when the prophecy happens. So the bottom line is we don't know."

"Amazing," said Cavuto, when it was all over. "It's in there. It's worth a read."

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