Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


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 Fowl Case Against HCR

| Mon Apr. 12, 2010 12:55 PM EDT

Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States Army Corps of Engineers is a nice little case about abandoned gravel pits, migratory birds, and the true meaning of the words "navigable waters." In a 5-4 decision in 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Water Act did not apply to man-made intrastate ponds (and their interstate migratory bird populations), and that Chicago-area towns could create a landfill on private property containing isolated bodies of stagnant water. Tough luck for environmental activists (not to mention the geese), but not exactly a landmark decision, either.

There the case rested, like the Ring of Power in the river Anduin, until late last month. That's when former Rep. Tom Campbell, the front-runner in the California GOP primary to take on Sen. Barbara Boxer, unveiled his constitutional argument against health care reform. In a blog post on his campaign site, Campbell suggests that the Supreme Court will use Solid Waste's narrow reading of the Commerce Clause to strike down the individual mandate:

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal government’s attempt to exert jurisdiction under migratory bird legislation over man-made ponds. The federal government argued that the birds couldn’t tell if the ponds were man-made or not, and the availability of these ponds affected the interstate and international flight of migratory fowl. The Supreme Court held this was not sufficient for the federal government to exercise its jurisdiction. [The individual mandate] is a very close parallel to this statute.

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Liberal Plot to Save California Foiled...For Now

| Fri Apr. 9, 2010 7:36 PM EDT

In January I spoke with UC-Berkeley linguist and progressive activist George Lakoff about his proposed referendum to repeal California's Propostion 13the infamous ballot initiative that mandated a 2/3 supermajority to approve tax-raising measures. For a state locked in a perpetual budget crisis (sound)—and with an ideologically polarized state legislatureLakoff's attempt to restore "majority rule" (as he put it), would have dramatically altered the most dysfunctional state government in the union.

As of Wednesday, however, things weren't looking so good for Lakoff's initiative. After sparring with state Attorney General (and presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee) Jerry Brown over wording changes, Lakoff has now withdrawn the measure. Although he plans to re-submit the referendum, even Lakoff isn't too optimistic about his odds of collecting the required signatures by the June deadline, telling supporters "the timeline will be tight." In other words, don't bet on it.

Bob McDonnell's Southern Aggression

| Wed Apr. 7, 2010 1:12 PM EDT

When Republican Bob McDonnell was elected governor of Virginia last November, Times columnist David Brooks gushed about his prospects on ABC: "We've just had a guy elected Virginia governor who's probably the model for the future of the Republican Party," Brooks said. "Bob McDonnell, pretty serious guy, pragmatic, calm, kind of boring."

The lesson, as always: Don't trust everything you see on TV. With the early returns in, McDonnell has turned out to be every bit the social values crusader his masters thesis suggested. First he rescinded an existing executive order protecting state employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Then his attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, demanded that the state university system drop its policy of not discriminating against gays. Cuccinelli, with McDonnell's support, then led the states-rights charge against health care reform and the EPA. Now, it seems, things have reached their logical conclusion: McDonnell has put forth an executive order making April "Confederate History Month." Party time!

Naomi Campbell's Blood Diamond Surprise

| Wed Apr. 7, 2010 11:05 AM EDT

Former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor is currently on trial for war crimes in Paris. That's only to be expected, given his record. What was wasn't entirely expected was the revelation in January that Taylor once tried to give a rough-cut diamond to British supermodel Naomi Campbell when the two were in South Africa for a charity event hosted by Nelson Mandela. Making things even more awkward: Taylor was re-gifting a "conflict diamond" that had been given to him by the government of Sierra Leone. Not since Kim Jong-Il asked Madeleine Albright to be his pen pal has a despot struck out so spectacularly.

According to the prosecution, Campbell was offered the diamond by Taylor's goons in the middle of the night, and told fellow guest Mia Farrow about the incident the next morning. (Taylor, not surprisingly, denies the whole thing.) The testimony was eventually discarded by the judges as "prejudicial" hearsay, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's inaccurate. Nonetheless, the story raises more questions than it answers: For instance, what kind of charity event includes Charles Taylor? And what did they talk about at dinner? Chalk this one up to bad luck, but Campbell has built an impressive resume as the King Leopold of the celebrity recolonization of Africa. In the last decade she's promised to help Kenya's impoverished people by building a hotel for billionaires on an endangered turtle habitat (but only if they built a better airport). She's also promised a modelling school in East Africa, and a rehab center.

Campbell's not the only celebrity running amuck in Africa, though. In the March/April issue of MoJo, senior editor Dave Gilson delved into the growing celebrity presence on the continent. He put together an interactive map, which, in this fact-checker's opinion, is kind of awesome. Some of the activism is pretty commendable, some of it not so much (see Hilton, Paris). But don't take my word for it; give it a look. As for the Campbell story, you can read the transcript here (pdf). The crazy stuff begins on page 89.

GOPers Embrace Centrist Demon Sheep

| Tue Apr. 6, 2010 5:38 PM EDT

As the midterm campaign season picks up, many observers have pointed to California as a state that could be ripe for a Tea Party takeover. Surveying the landscape in February, Washington Post columnist George Will declared that Chuck DeVore, an Orange County assemblyman backed by Sen. Jim DeMint and Tea Party groups, would win the Republican nomination and take on Sen. Barbara Boxer in November. DeVore would win the primary, Will argued, because DeVore is the most conservative candidate in the race. And in 2010, voters won't settle for anything less.

Well, maybe not. According to the latest Los Angeles Times/USC poll, 46 percent of likely California Republican primary voters said they'd prefer a "centrist" candidate, while just 42 percent said they'd like a "conservative" candidate. Those preferences are exemplified by support for individual candidates: Moderate former congressman Tom Campbell—immortalized as a "Fiscal Conservative in Name Only," demonic ungulate in a February ad by rival Carly Fiorina—leads the three-way race with 29 percent. After 16 months on the trail, Will's favorite DeVore has the support of just 9 percent of voters.

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